Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the House Appropriations Committee about Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget request for the Department of Education. Congressman Andy Harris (R–MD) took the opportunity to question Duncan about a glaring omission from the budget: funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP).
The DCOSP provides vouchers to low-income children in the nation’s capital to attend a private school of choice. According to the Department of Education’s scientifically rigorous evaluation of the program, the DCOSP has been a wild success: Students who received a voucher and used it to attend a private school had a 91 percent graduation rate—21 percentage points higher than their peers who did not receive a voucher. The evaluation, without a doubt, showed that scholarships led to the dramatic gains in school completion.
Congressman Harris questioned Secretary Duncan on why the Obama Administration is pushing to create a massive new federal preschool program when there is little evidence that such an initiative would work, while at the same time pushing once again to eliminate funding for the objectively successful DCOSP.
Harris: You talked about the Perry [Preschool Project] study with 60 people. You talked about the other study with less than 100 people justifying a billion dollar expenditure. We’re talking about, relatively, not that large an expenditure that your own document says “significantly improved students’ chances of graduating high school.” Now I’m going to assume that we think that’s a good outcome.
Harris: In fact, the highest risk students…had a 20 percent increase in their high school graduation rate. That’s astounding. Again, having sat on a state education committee, if we figured out a way to snap our fingers and say that 20 percent or more of our students in our worse performing [schools]…could achieve a 20 percent increase, man we’d jump through hoops figuring out how to expand that program. So it begs the question: why aren’t you funding this at the maximum amount of $20 million?
Congressman Harris’s point is an important one: The Administration is proposing spending $75 billion over 10 years on a new federal “Preschool for All” program, basing that decision in part on a 50-year-old study (the Perry Preschool Project), conducted with an experiment group of 58 children in high intervention preschool settings.
To put this in perspective, the entire Department of Education Budget is roughly $70 billion annually. The proposed preschool plan (ostensibly offset by new taxes on tobacco), is a dramatic new spending proposal.
Yet, in the face of the Department of Education’s scientifically rigorous evaluation of more than 1,000 students currently enrolled in the DCOSP, which showed that it had statistically significant impacts on graduation rates, the Administration proposes zeroing out funding for what is in comparison, the small, $20 million voucher option.
In his testimony, Duncan stated that “[b]udgets entail value choices. They reflect the aspirations of our citizens and leaders.”
It’s hard to justify how the decision to zero-out funding for the DCOSP reflects a value choice—or maybe it does.
Source material can be found at this site.