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Congress should reinvest DC TAG money into voucher program

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Yesterday, the D.C. Council in a unanimous vote approved education committee chairman David Catania's Promise act despite threats from Congress that if college costs can be paid for locally there is no need for Federal money. The fear is that the move will spell the end of the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) which has, according to the Washington Post's Emma Brown, assisted more than 20,000 students since 2000 at a cost of approximately $317 million.

But instead of the House of Representatives simply taking back these dollars I have another idea. Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor should simply redirect the expenditure over to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Fund. This tiny $20 million a year program would more than double when the $30 million a year in TAG allocations are added to it. Currently, about 1,700 students take advantage of vouchers to attend the private school of their choice. What a boon it would be to the educational marketplace in Washington D.C. to add about 2,000 more scholarships.

“We have to ensure that we are investing in our young people,” Ms. Brown quotes Mr. Catania as commenting on his legislation. The nation's capital current spends about $1.2 million a year on the traditional schools and another $600,000 a year on charters. With all of this we have a 2013 DC CAS overall student proficiency rate of 51.3 percent.

It is time to go in another direction. Let us use the opening the education chairman has provided to bring school choice to a new higher level.

The Promise program still needs further final approval by the Council and funding in the city's Fiscal Year 2014 budget. The Mayor has said he supports the plan.

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