In the ongoing saga of the DC school voucher program, it seems that the demand for the program is less than supporters expected. Only 1200 students applied for the grants which will allow them to attend a private school as an alternative to their current public school and of the 1200, about 200 of those students already attend private school. The District of Columbia’s alternate city council/school board (aka Congress) appropriated enough money for at least 1600 students to participate in this first federally-funded voucher plan.
Why did so few families apply to move their children from the DC public schools? Supporters blame it on lack of time to publicize the program, although one of the Congressmen who sponsored the plan says that would take "three or four years" to get the word out. A better theory is that the rapidly expanding network of charter schools in DC have already siphoned off most of the families who are concerned enough about their kids’ education to actively do something about it.
Beyond the embarrassment of supporters at the low turn out for vouchers, the small number of applicants will also make it difficult to do a valid assessment of the program. Officials hope that there will be enough students who apply in the next round to do a meaningful evaluation. And the problem of finding enough private school slots remains. While the raw numbers match up, there may not be enough seats at any one grade level to satisfy the demand, requiring a lottery.
This lower than expected demand for voucher slots combined with the nationwide trend of parents refusing to transfer their kids from schools declared "failing" by NCLB and the soaring demand for charter schools to me says a lot about school choice. You can make your own interpretation but maybe it’s time we asked parents what they want. Not politicians, not think tanks, not highly funded special interest groups run by former Secretaries of Education. Ask the parents who are concerned about the future of their children. I’ll bet most will say they want good neighborhood schools that treat their children as people, not numbers. What a revolutionary idea!