The 600 families attending the July 9 application event for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, held at St. Anthony School in Washington, included Meredith Williams and her children Naomi, 6; Niya, 3; and Daejah, 11.
The 600 families attending the July 9 application event for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, held at St. Anthony School in Washington, included Meredith Williams and her children Naomi, 6; Niya, 3; and Daejah, 11.
More than 600 families attended the last application event for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program held July 9 at St. Anthony School in Washington. Volunteers assisted a steady influx of parents and guardians throughout the day with filing forms requesting federal school choice vouchers for up to $12,000. Qualifying low-income families who completed their applications will be entered in a lottery next month for approximately 1,000 scholarships to 50 participating schools in the District.

In order to be considered for the vouchers, a family must reside in the District, have an income of no more than 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold or receive food stamps.

"This event is part of our community outreach as a parish," said Father Fred Close, pastor of St. Anthony Parish. The priest said about one-third of the students at St. Anthony School are receiving D.C. Opportunity Scholarships. "This law allows even the poorest of the poor school choices," Father Close said.

Originally Congress voted to phase out the program in 2009, but it was restored and expanded during the budget approval process this past April behind the efforts of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Father Close praised the program's return. "It's a matter of social justice," he said, noting that parents are a child's primary educators. "It's good we have a law put in place that allows parents to be parents - to fulfill their obligation to give their children the best education."

Katherine Haley, Boehner's policy assistant, volunteered at the application event and was pleased by the parental interest in the program. "We have the opportunity to help a lot of families in the District," Haley said. Boehner "really believes school choice is important in ensuring individuals - specifically children - have the opportunity for hope in the future," she added.
According to the Archdiocese of Washington, about one-half of the approximately 1,100 students receiving Opportunity Scholarships are enrolled in Catholic elementary and high schools within the District.

In this recent expansion of the program, students in kindergarten through eighth grade can receive up to $8,000 in scholarships, while high school applicants may receive up to $12,000. The scholarships are being administered by the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, with the lottery being overseen by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Educational Services. Families who were already awarded scholarships in 2009 and unable to use them will have priority in the lottery. "It is additional support for families with not many options to change their children's future with education while the D.C. school system continues to improve," said Jennifer Brown, a spokesperson for the trust.

As a senior on a fixed income, Vera Patrick said she would like "the best for my grandchild financially and educationally." Patrick said she hoped her 11-year-old granddaughter could receive a scholarship. Douglas Smith Sr. was also applying for a scholarship for his young granddaughter who is scheduled to enter kindergarten in the fall. "The scholarship would mean my son's daughter could get into a very, very good school," Smith said.

Rachelle Hawkins said she believes "every child in America is deserving of a decent education in order to survive the 21st century." Hawkins was applying for a scholarship for her 10-year-old daughter. "Unfortunately there are schools in DC which are not up to par," Hawkins said. "These parents just want to give their children a chance."