- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

More than 300 D.C. children from low-income backgrounds will keep their federally funded scholarships that allow them to attend private or parochial schools for the next three years, thanks to legislation passed by Congress last weekend.

The new legislation raises the household income eligibility renewal limit for students who enrolled in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program’s first two years from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

The students, who are in kindergarten through high school, were about to lose the scholarships because their annual family incomes had risen above the federal poverty level and income increases set by the program.

“It’s great news,” said Sally Sachar, president and chief executive officer of Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit organization that administers the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“This amendment is essential to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program’s success, and it enables the program to continue to serve the low-income D.C. families for which it was critical,” Mrs. Sachar said.

Carole Henderson, 67, of Northwest, is especially grateful. She is the grandmother and legal guardian of Ashante, 9, a fourth-grader, and William, 11, a sixth-grader, who attend the Bridges Academy in Northwest.

Because of Mrs. Henderson’s limited retirement income, she said her grandchildren wouldn’t be able to attend the school without the scholarships.

“I’m glad they passed the legislation,” Mrs. Henderson said. “William is right where he should be now. Before, Ashante couldn’t distinguish her letters. She couldn’t handle her homework. William doesn’t like all the homework, but Ashante tells him, ‘If you don’t do it, you won’t get ahead.’ ”

Loisa White, whose third-grade son, Michael, attends a private school through the scholarship program, said she also is pleased with the legislation.

“I didn’t have the funds for Michael to continue at his school,” she said. “Now, I’m excited about him being able to have the kind of education that I believe every child in the District deserves.”

Michael was awarded the scholarship in 2004. Last year, Mrs. White got a better paying job, which raised the family’s income $2,000 above the poverty scholarship limit. Mrs. White did not have enough income to pay Michael’s tuition until Congress increased the limit.

The Henderson and White children are among 1,802 students are attending 58 participating private and parochial D.C. schools through the scholarship program this school year.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the country’s first federally funded scholarship program for K-12 students, provides eligible, low-income children with up to $7,500 per year to pay for tuition, transportation and fees at participating private and parochial schools in the District.

The program helps students who ordinarily would attend some of the District’s lowest performing public schools.

About 70 percent of students receiving the scholarships typically would be in public schools designated as “in need of improvement, corrective action or restructuring,” according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Those who participate in the program have an average household income of $21,100 for a family of four, according to the Washington Scholarship Fund.

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