Aaron Davis and Emma Brown of the Washington Post report today that the D.C. Council is about to approve a $50 million a year program to provide high school students that have attended ninth through twelfth grade in the nation's capital up to $60,000 toward a college education. Students enrolled in traditional, charter, and private schools, as well as those who have been home schooled would be eligible for the college vouchers as long as they are District residents. Money would be provided on a sliding scale based upon family income up to $215,000 a year.
What is exciting to think about is that if the bill passes and is signed by the Mayor it is possible that some children in Washington, D.C. will have their entire private school education from Kindergarten through college paid for through scholarships.
There are three potential roadblocks to this legislation becoming law. The Federal government, under a law called the DC Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) originally created by Congressman Tom Davis, currently funds up to $10,000 toward the difference between in-state and out-of-state public school tuition or up to $2,500 every twelve months for tuition to a District private university, historically black college, or two year colleges. The new Promise grants, named by the bill's originator education committee chairman David Catania, would only be available after students had applied for Pell Grants and TAG money. Council chairman Phil Mendelson and councilman Tommy Wells are concerned that the Federal government would end the TAG program if it is seen that the District can provide financial support to college students on its own. They want this issue cleared up before they will vote in favor of the plan.
A second obstacle to the legislation is that four council members, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Orange, and Tommy Wells, are already running for mayor and may not want to give a victory to Mr. Catania, who is also considering entering the contest. Finally, Mr. Gray has already put forward a draft Education Adequacy Study that lays out his future spending priorities. The document does not include the Promise funding.
Whatever happens, it is encouraging to see so many politicians getting behind providing students with school scholarships. Perhaps going forward this enthusiasm will transfer to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which costs about as half as much as Mr. Catania's bill as is targeted to serve low income children.