Future of D.C. school vouchers worries parents

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Congress authorized the program for five years, and must reauthorize it next year if it is to continue. Mrs. Norton said she will do her best to make sure that doesn’t happen, and now that her party holds the majority in Congress, she could be more successful than she was in 2004.

“I think there’s very little chance that, when this runs out, it will be renewed, ” she said.

Mrs. Norton met with officials from the Washington Scholarship Fund, which administers the scholarships. “I have said to them that I think the only responsible thing to do is to prepare the parents to understand that the program is unlikely to be funded, that it was experimental, it was never meant to be permanent.”

Mrs. Norton acknowledges the low test scores and low graduation rates of the District’s public school system. Instead of offering a limited number of students each year the chance to attend private school, she wants to use every penny allocated for D.C. education to improve public schools for all students, she said.

She said she supports school choice, but in the form of charter schools, not vouchers.

Many parents of voucher students said they weren’t opposed to public schools, just skeptical about whether improvement would come in time to benefit their children.

‘Not going to wait’

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, has vowed to improve D.C. schools. He relegated the school board to an advisory role in June and took control of the system, appointing a “chancellor” to replace the schools superintendent. Enrollment in D.C. schools has declined for at least the past 10 years from roughly 77,000 to 56,787 in the 2006-07 school year.

Tesha Legore, a single mother whose daughter, Jadaica Godfrey, 8, attends St. Gabriel School in Northwest with a voucher, said she wanted to see D.C. public schools improved.

“But I’m not going to wait on them to get [the school system] together,” said Ms. Legore, 30. “I want the best for my daughter. From when Jadaica was born, I knew I wanted her education to be solid, but from an income basis, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Jadaica is vivacious. On a recent afternoon, she bounced around the cheerful house, decorated mostly in pink, that she shares with her mother and grandmother in Northeast. She’s bright, her mother says, and in public school, she breezed through without any problems.

Only after Jadaica switched to private school did her mother realize she had problems in reading and math. Jadaica’s teacher called Ms. Legore to tell her what her daughter needed to work on at home, she said. Now she works with Jadaica to make sure she has a solid foundation in the essentials.

“I think this school has been very beneficial,” she said.

Gregory M. Cork, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Scholarship Fund, said vouchers are part of a larger effort to reform D.C. education.

“We support better D.C. public schools and better charter schools,” said Mr. Cork, whose children attend public schools in Northwest. “What parents need are options. The fact that whether kids deserve an option has become a political football is just regrettable.”

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