In our story so far…

  • The District of Columbia was told by their alternate city council/school board (aka Congress) that they would implement a school voucher plan starting this fall.
  • However, they only coughed up enough money to give $7500 to around 1700 kids (out of 65,000 in the city schools).
  • But that really didn’t matter since the private schools in the city didn’t have enough places for all 1700 students anyway and the tuition at many is far above $7500.
  • But that really didn’t matter since only about two-thirds that number completed the lengthy application process for the spots.

And now, as the school year opened this week, one in five of the students who were actually awarded the vouchers told the non-profit organization hired to administer the program they didn’t want the money after all. Why? The parents who actually responded had a variety of reasons.

The families that did not use their vouchers provided various reasons to the Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit group hired by the U.S. Department of Education to run the program. Many parents said they ultimately preferred the educational offerings in public or charter schools. Others cited the costs and logistical challenges of transporting their children to and from private schools across the city. Still others decided to keep their children at private schools that were not participating in the voucher program. A small number moved out of the District and were no longer eligible. The largest proportion, however, either would not discuss their reasons with the nonprofit group’s officials or were unreachable.

Which brings us down to 1069 students who will be participating in the program this fall. But that’s not the end of the story by a long shot. This test program is funded to run for five years and expand to include more students. Far more important than the numbers, however, is just how well the students who move to their new schools actually do compared to the kids who remain in the public schools. And I’m still waiting for someone to tell me just how this kind of program is going help improve the public schools for all children, as so many voucher supporters have claimed it will.

The story continues…