Vote Explanation for H.R. 4901 — Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reauthorization (SOAR) Act

Today I voted against H.R. 4901, which passed the House 224–181. This legislation reauthorizes $60 million in annual funding over five years, evenly distributed, to the District of Columbia (DC) public schools, public charter schools, and the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).

In 2004, Congress established the OSP as the first and only federally funded elementary and secondary private school voucher program in the United States. Under this program, DC households with incomes that do not exceed 185% of the poverty line may receive an annual maximum voucher payment per student of approximately $8,000 for grades K-8, and $12,000 for grades 9–12.

This legislation would continue to provide federal funding to pay for private school tuition in DC despite overwhelming evidence, including from the Department of Education, that the voucher program has ‘‘no significant impacts’’ on the academic achievement — as measured by math and reading test scores — of students from the lowest performing schools. Moreover, in a 2013 study of the program conducted by the Government Accountability Office, the agency found very limited oversight over the curriculum, quality, or management of the schools that participate in the voucher program. H.R. 4901 would exacerbate this problem by prohibiting the creation of a control study group to evaluate the OSP.

Most importantly, students participating in the OSP are exempt from the protection of federal civil rights laws that apply to public schools and other federally funded programs. This includes the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

While I fully support funding DC’s public schools and public charter schools, it is unfortunate that my Republican colleagues have made this contingent on funding a program that has failed our capital’s most vulnerable students.