Monday, June 8, 2009

Recipients of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship attended a graduation ceremony Wednesday night at Archbishop Carroll High School to honor their accomplishments and plead for reauthorization of the program.

As most participants noted, the ceremony — which honored more than 100 students receiving the federally funded scholarships — may be one of the last of its kind if Congress proceeds with plans to end the program after this year.

“Receiving a scholarship and being given the choice of where I could attend school was a blessing for my family,” said Jordan White, a graduating senior at Georgetown Day School. “It changed my life and made innumerable options available to me.”

At Georgetown Day, Jordan took several Advanced Placement classes, studied Chinese, pursued her love of art and creative writing, and helped with theater productions. She spoke at the ceremony.

“I’d like to say to the decision-makers on Capitol Hill and of the District of Columbia, before any political decisions are made against a program such as this, look at us here today,” she said.

Jordan won a scholarship to attend Oberlin College, a school with many famous alumni, including Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

“Some public schools, including the one I went to, are not as strict and focused. It makes it hard to concentrate on learning. But at Sacred Heart, the academics are taken seriously. This focus is something that has helped me succeed,” said Shirley-Ann Tomdio, a graduating eighth-grader at Sacred Heart School who has been accepted to Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School for the fall.

Shirley-Ann played basketball for the Sacred Heart Scorpions, plays violin with the D.C. Youth Orchestra and writes poetry. After high school, she plans to attend college. Her goal is to one day become a surgeon.

President Obama has said he supports whatever works in education.

The Democrat-controlled Congress included a provision in a recent spending bill that would phase out the D.C. voucher program after 2010 unless lawmakers specifically reauthorize it.

Since 2004, more than 8,000 students have applied to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Currently, the program provides up to $7,500 to each of about 1,700 low-income D.C. students.

“These children are thriving and succeeding due to their hard work and the D.C. OSP,” said Kevin P. Chavous, former D.C. Council member and board member of D.C. Children First, a local advocacy group. “For Congress and the administration to take this program away is denying educational opportunities for our children. It’s time to tell our political leaders to keep this program going — it’s the right thing to do for our kids.”

This school year, more than 1,700 voucher recipients attended 49 D.C. schools. Congressional action on the future of the program is expected in the fall.

• Virginia Walden Ford is executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice.

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