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The DC Voucher Story Finds Its Way to the Silver Screen, Sort Of.

October 10, 2019

There’s a movie about the DC school voucher program scheduled for release on October 18, 2019: Miss Virginia, produced by the nonprofit, Moving Picture Institute.

See a 2-minute trailer below:

The the individual who is the focus of the film, Virginia Walden Ford, was among the first students chosen to desegregate Little Rock, Arkansas, schools in the 1960s. Ford was a high school student at the time. She later advocated for the DC school voucher program, the only federally-funded school voucher program, created in 2004. From Ford’s website:

While she was raising her three children in Washington, D.C., Virginia was shocked that so many children were forced to attend failing, crumbling schools simply because they lived in the “wrong” ZIP codes. In fact, she worried that her own son, William, was falling through the cracks of a system that wasn’t focused on the best interests of children.

In 1998, she took action, forming a grassroots organization, D.C. Parents for School Choice. Along with a group of dedicated parents, Virginia went door-to-door, neighborhood-to-neighborhood, recruiting and training thousands of other parents to stand up for their children’s futures.

In 2003, with the support of national education organizations and lawmakers, Virginia and her courageous group of parent advocates succeeded in convincing Congress and President George W. Bush to enact the nation’s first-ever Opportunity Scholarship Program for low-income children, a program that set into motion a complete overhaul of Washington, D.C.’s education system.

This program provides scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, while boosting federal funding for traditional public schools and public charter schools. Since the program’s inception, thousands of students have received Opportunity Scholarships, and the program boasts a 91 percent high school graduation rate.

After the program’s passage, Virginia worked to encourage families to learn more about their school choice options, conducting information sessions across the city. Later, she played a key role in the Congressional reauthorization of the program.

Ford’s story sounds compelling– a school choice happy ending.

“Opportunity Scholarships.”

But what, exactly, of that “opportunity”?

As part of its authorization, the DC school voucher program must offer formal evaluation of the program. The sixth such report (following the program’s 2011 reauthorization), published in May 2019, offers the following research findings by way of its associated summary:

DC VOUCHERS HAD NO IMPACT ON STUDENT ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT

  • There were no statistically significant impacts on either reading or mathematics achievement for students who received vouchers or used vouchers three years after applying to the program.

  • The lack of impact on student academic achievement applied to each of the study’s eight subgroups of students: (1) students attending schools in need of improvement when they applied, (2) students not attending schools in need of improvement when they applied, (3) students entering elementary grades when they applied, (4) students entering secondary grades when they applied, (5) students scoring above the median in reading at the time of application, (6) students below the median in reading at the time of application, (7) students scoring above the median in mathematics at the time of application, and (8) students below the median in mathematics at the time of application.


DC VOUCHERS DO NOT PROVIDE GREATER PARENTAL SATISFACTION

  • The program had no statistically significant impact on parents’ satisfaction with the school their child attended after three years.

  • The program had a statistically significant impact on students’ satisfaction with their school only for one subgroup of students (those with reading scores above the median), and no statistically significant impact for any other subgroup.


DC VOUCHERS DO NOT PROVIDE A GREATER SENSE OF SCHOOL SAFETY FOR PARENTS

  • The program had no statistically significant impact on parents’ perceptions of safety for the school their child attended after three years.


DC VOUCHERS DO NOT INCREASE PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT

  • The program had no statistically significant impact on parents’ involvement with their child’s education at school or at home after three years.


DC VOUCHERS DO NOT PROVIDE MORE CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION TIME OR SCHOOL-WIDE RESOURCES

  • The study found that students who received a voucher on average were provided 1.7 hours less of instruction time a week in both reading and math than students who did not receive vouchers.

  • The study found that students who received a voucher had less access to programming for students with learning disabilities and for students who are English Language Learners than students who did not receive vouchers.

  • The study also found that students who received vouchers had fewer school safety measures in place at their schools than students who did not receive vouchers.


DC VOUCHER SCHOOLS ARE PREDOMINANTLY RELIGIOUS AND THE VAST MAJORITY CHARGE TUITION ABOVE THE VOUCHER AMOUNT

  • The study found that 62% of the schools participating in the voucher program from 2013-2016, were religiously affiliated.

  • The study found that 70% of the schools participating in the voucher program from 2013-2016 had published tuition rates above the maximum amount of the voucher. Among those schools, the average difference between the maximum voucher amount and the tuition was $13,310.


MANY STUDENTS REJECT THE VOUCHER OR LEAVE THE PROGRAM

  • The study found that three years after applying to the voucher program, less than half (49%) of the students who received vouchers used them to attend a private school for the full three years.

  • The study also found that 20% of students stopped using the voucher after one year and returned to public school, and 22% of students who received vouchers did not use them at all.

Based upon its trailer, I do not expect that Miss Virginia will highlight how the DC school voucher program has fared as per the details of the May 2019 research report, which is not the substance of compelling triumph.

missing the target

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

From → Vouchers

5 Comments
  1. Jack Covey permalink

    WON’T BACK DOWN: II

    Seriously, the trailer shows the pro-public school (i.e. anti-voucher) politician played by Matthew Modine to be condescending, reptilian and evil, and is contrasted with the heroic, pro-voucher mom.

    Not exactly a masterpiece of subtlety.

  2. pwtx23 permalink

    Thank you.

  3. Edd Doerr permalink

    Vouchers and tax credits are just two sides of the same coin. It should be noted that in 1981 the District of Columbia had a referendum on a tax credit voucher scheme. It was defeated by the astounding margin of 89% to 11%. (In the 29 other state referenda on tax aid for private schools the margin of defeat averaged 2 to 1.)

  4. carolinesf permalink

    As Diane Ravitch points out, this movie is the new “Won’t Back Down,” which was part of the massive billionaire-funded hype for the parent trigger — a hustle by which parents were supposed to take over the school their kid attended and hand it over to a private charter operator. “Won’t Back Down” died, just like the parent trigger.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider: A New Movie Celebrates a Failed Voucher Program | Diane Ravitch's blog

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