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Future of D.C. school vouchers worries parents
Jordan White was a troublemaker in middle school — at least, according to some of her teachers.They called her mother, Wendy Cunningham, to say that Jordan had bad classroom behavior. She didn’t pay attention during class because she was always doodling, they said. The quiet, straight-A student couldn’t put down her pencil.
Takoma Education Center, the D.C. public school she attended, didn’t offer art classes, so Jordan, 15, just kept drawing in the margins.
Then she received a D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, a federally funded school voucher for D.C. families living near the poverty level that faces an uncertain future in the Democrat-controlled Congress.
Jordan began attending Georgetown Day School, and instead of being scolded for sketching in class, she was encouraged to enroll in art courses.
Suddenly, her mother said, she discovered a talent.
“I didn’t know my daughter was an artist until she went to Georgetown Day School,” said Miss Cunningham, 42. “She wouldn’t have gotten those needs met in public school. When I think about that, it brings tears to my eyes.”
Jordan is one of 1,800 students who used a D.C. Opportunity Scholarship last year to leave the District’s struggling school system for private academies they could not otherwise afford. The program has received applications from 7,158 students since its inception.
The $7,500 vouchers are awarded by lottery, with preference given to students attending public schools designated as “in need of improvement” under the federal No Child Left Behind education initiative.
But now many families are beginning to worry that the change of power in Congress means the end of the scholarship program, and some parents say they’re willing to fight to keep that from happening.
Deborah Green, whose daughter Tanisha Bethea, 16, attends private school with the scholarship, said she is ready to hit the streets in protest when the program comes up for reauthorization in Congress next year in what is expected to be a fierce confrontation.
“We’re going to have a battle,” she said. “I’m ready to do that because they need to keep the program going. Without it, the students don’t have a choice, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
The $14 million-a-year initiative, the first federally funded voucher program in the country, was passed by a Republican-led Congress in 2004 and championed by the District’s mayor at the time, Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat.
The voucher bill set aside $13 million a year for teacher training and recruitment for public schools and $13 million a year for charter schools, in addition to funding for vouchers.
Many Democrats in Congress opposed the program, including the District’s nonvoting representative, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.Vouchers take precious funding away from public schools, she said.
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