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Few D.C. Vouchers Help Neediest Kids

WASHINGTON --A tiny percentage of students in Washington's most troubled public schools applied for private school vouchers under the nation's first federally funded program, according to an Education Department report released Tuesday.

Only 79 applications -- 4 percent of the total -- came from 15 Washington schools designated as in need of improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act. All were awarded scholarships of up to $7,500 to pay tuition, fees and transportation expenses for nonpublic elementary or secondary schools in the current school year.

An additional 73 public schools were designated as needing improvement after the application deadline, the report said. From those schools, 456 students applied.

A total of 433 students from all schools that were eventually labeled as needing improvement received scholarships, said Ed Greenberger, a spokesman for the Washington Scholarship Fund, which administers the program. Those students received more than 30 percent of the scholarships, Greenberger said.

By contrast, 518 eligible applicants came from private schools. Forty-three percent of those students got vouchers. Of the 1,251 other public school students who applied, 85 percent were admitted into the program.

"Parents whose students are already (in private school) want public assistance to help their students remain there," said Roxanne Evans, spokeswoman for D.C. Public Schools. "That's one of the tragedies of vouchers -- that private school students use public money to fund private education."

However, Greenberger said application figures for the coming school year show the program is moving away from serving private school students.

Of the 2,286 applications received from public school students so far for 2005-2006, 52 percent are from students who attend schools that need improvement or who will be entering kindergarten, Greenberger said. He predicted that students who attend public schools would receive virtually all the new scholarships to be awarded in lotteries later this month.

"We expect there will be no room for students who are already in private schools," Greenberger said.

Legislators stood by their creation.

"Even with limited time for outreach, the program attracted participation by more than half of the private schools in the District, providing parents and students with dozens of diverse and well-established private options," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., a principal backer.

More than half of participating schools are Catholic. They are smaller and have lower student-teacher ratios than the city's public schools, and tuition for most is less than the $7,500 maximum paid by vouchers.

To be eligible for school vouchers, students entering grades K-12 must live in low-income households in the District. Scholarships can be renewed for up to five years. Schools must agree to requirements regarding nondiscrimination and fiscal accountability.

— Lauren Frayer, Associated Press
Boston Globe


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