- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The District’s school voucher program would be better off without federal funding and should be open to all D.C. students, according to a study of the program released yesterday.

Conducted by the Cato Institute and the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation, the study found that the program is “inconducive to excellence” and rewards the public school system for decreasing enrollment numbers.

Susan Aud, senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation, said the voucher program saves taxpayers money but would go further if it is restructured and expanded to include all public school students.

The current structure of the program saves the District almost $8 million, mostly because it is federally funded and includes a federal grant to public schools.

“But if the program were locally funded, the city would still save more than $250,000, even without federal grant subsidies, because of the greater efficiency of school choice,” Miss Aud said.

In fall 2004, the nation’s first federally funded school voucher program began in the District. More than 1,000 students who were enrolled in the city’s public schools used the vouchers to transfer to private schools.

The nonprofit Washington Scholarship Fund administers the program for the D.C. government and the U.S. Department of Education.

This year, more than 1,700 students enrolled at 59 private schools through the program. Each participant receives up to $7,500 for tuition, fees and transportation.

The public school system and D.C. charter school system each received $13 million in federal grants to improve their programs, the study said.

Robert Enlow, executive director of the Friedman Foundation, said the debate essentially comes down to “more efficiency versus more money” and that proponents of vouchers had been hampered by a lack of supporting statistics and minimal knowledge of school financing.

“Thankfully, I’d like to say that the pro-voucher side is getting its act together,” Mr. Enlow said. “And we’re starting to address these issues. … This study gives the kind of credible evidence necessary to change our argument from ‘in theory, school choice will save money,’ to ‘in practice, school choice does save money in both public and private schools.’”

The voucher program allows the school system’s central administration to retain a higher share of overall funding, leaving the management of reduced expenditures predominantly at the school level.

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