- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

More than 1,000 students formerly enrolled in the District’s troubled public schools will begin this academic year in private schools after taking advantage of the nation’s first federally funded voucher program.

Sally Sachar, president of the Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit group administering the $14 million program for the D.C. government and the U.S. Department of Education, said yesterday that 1,016 students that have been placed in 53 private schools in the District.

“We do believe it’s an outstanding achievement on the part of our organization so soon after the program was created,” Miss Sachar said.

The D.C. Parental Choice Incentive Act provides up to $7,500 per child to cover tuition, fees and other educational expenses.

In 17 days last spring, the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF) received inquiries from families of about 8,500 students. More than 1,800 children met program income requirements. The program limits participation to families with an annual income no higher than 185 percent of the poverty level, or $34,873 for a family of four.

According to the Washington Scholarship Fund, 729 students will attend kindergarten through fifth grade on scholarship, 224 students will attend sixth through eighth grades on scholarship, and 51 students will attend ninth through 12th grades on scholarship. As of last night, 12 of the 1,016 students were not included in the breakdown since they had just been assigned to a school.

The schools participating in the voucher program range across the city’s eight wards. Twenty-two are archdiocesan schools, 14 are other faith-based schools and 17 are identified as “other non-public” schools.

Raj Rathor, of Northwest, received word of the program in a mailing earlier this year. He applied and was granted scholarships to send his daughter, Sarojinee, to sixth grade and his son, Vishwonth, to kindergarten at Rock Creek International School in Northwest this fall. He said he was concerned primarily about the large class sizes in the public schools.

“When we saw this opportunity, we took it,” Mr. Rathor said. “We are really happy to have this available to our children.”

Despite massive spending, the D.C. public school system has been plagued by oversight problems, declining enrollment, crumbling facilities, escalating violence and poor academic achievement.

D.C. high school students again performed below the national average on the 2004 SAT, according to test scores released by the New York-based College Board yesterday.

D.C. students received an average math score of 476 and a verbal score of 489, test resultsshowed. The national average math scores were 518, while verbal scores averaged 508. Most colleges and universities consider SAT results as a factor in admissions.

The voucher program, which was supported by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, could fund 16,113 scholarships if each student received the full $7,500 amount.

Miss Sachar said the program did not generate enough applicants this year for spaces in kindergarten to fifth grade, but exceeded the available spaces for students from sixth to 12th grade and students already in private schools.

“The fact of the matter is there was more demand than supply,” she said. “While we could have filled the program with eligible students in private schools, we made a decision to keep in mind the priority of seeing to public school students.”

She said she expects enrollment figures to swell next year among public school students because the Washington Scholarship Fund will have more time to reach out to families and will have participating parents who can interest others.

The participating schools have tuition rates of $3,000 to $22,415 per year, but Miss Sachar said she was not aware of any case where the school was charging a family beyond what the scholarship provided.

“The schools, to a school, have made the commitment to pay the difference,” she said.

The scholarship fund already has received two applications for the 2005-06 academic year and has a series of family application meetings and outreach plans in the works that are set to begin later this month.

Interested families can call 888/DC-YOUTH or visit the WSF office at 1133 15th St. NW between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

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