The federally-funded voucher program for the District of Columbia is moving forward – slowly. This week an agency was selected to administer the program and ran into it’s first problem. It seems there may not be enough places in DC private schools to handle the number of students who are given vouchers.

As you may or may not recall, the plan approved by DC’s alternative City Council/School Board (aka Congress) provides grants of up $7500 for "at least" 1700 students from the city’s public schools. Families must first apply and be accepted to a private school, going through their normal admissions procedures (I wonder who pays the application fee charged at some schools?). After being accepted they then apply for a voucher. If there are more requests than funds, everyone gets put in a lottery to determine who gets the vouchers.

But, as I said, there may not be enough spaces to accommodate 1700 kids. The largest supplier, the Archdiocese of Washington, will be able to handle at most 500 kids, mostly because the later it gets, the harder it is to hire teachers and buy books. As for the other private schools in DC, many of them have little or no space or won’t participate in the program.

Clay also said many low-income students in low-performing schools probably would have trouble gaining admission to selective private schools. Several private school officials have said they need to retain control over admissions decisions so they can ensure that voucher students will succeed in their classes.

Officials at some schools, such as St. Albans in Northwest, said yesterday that they have decided not to participate in the program. St. Albans is concerned that standardized testing of voucher students, which is required under the legislation, may not accurately measure how well they are learning what is taught at the school, said communications director David Baker. He said St. Albans also is worried that federal funding could be eliminated before voucher students graduate.

On top of all that, $7500 is about 1/3 the tuition at St. Albans and is also less than the cost of attending many other private schools in DC. Just one of the many problems this plan is going to have over the next few months. Stay tuned.