March 24, 2004
|Contact: (202) 401-1576|
Thank you. I am delighted to join Mayor Tony Williams, Congressman Tom Davis, Councilman Kevin Chavous, and Sally Sachar in this announcement. We have selected a credible, capable, and competent administrator for the D.C. Choice Program, the Washington Scholarship Fund - which along with its local advisory board and partners submitted a stellar application. This is a great moment for students and parents in the District. I want to thank President Bush, supporters in Congress, and those on the D.C. School Board and City Council, who courageously, often at some risk, fought for choice.
I also want to thank Fight for Children for helping to get this program off the ground while we evaluated and selected a permanent administrator. Fight for Children has done a great job getting the word out through TV and radio spots with Quincy Jones, and also through brochures and a website. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
As you know, less than two months ago, Congress passed the 2004 budget, which included additional funds to support the public, charter and private schools in DC. The bipartisan budget includes $14 million for the "D.C. Choice Incentive Program." This is a five-year, federally funded program to provide approximately 2,000 low-income students in the District with grants of up to $7,500 each. The students will attend the participating private school of their choice.
This program will be overseen by the United States Department of Education in partnership with the District of Columbia. Mayor Williams and I will jointly run the program. We have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding to that effect. The agreement outlined the selection mechanism for the independent body that would award the equal opportunity scholarships. We invited applications through a notice in the Federal Register. The notice set out the funding criteria, priorities, and procedures for selection, consistent with the congressional legislation.
Based on the criteria, and the recommendations of an expert panel of outside reviewers, we selected the Washington Scholarship Fund.
Of course, by themselves, equal opportunity scholarships will not solve every problem facing D.C. schools. The scholarships must be part of a larger set of reforms and adjustments. But this program will make a substantial contribution to the students and parents who are searching for a quality education. In my view, equal opportunity scholarships provide a workable, hopeful alternative to open private schools to low-income and minority students.
Today, with this announcement, I believe we stand witness to history. Passage of D.C. Choice is a defining moment in American education, a milestone achievement. For each of these students, this is educational emancipation. Equal opportunity scholarships can be the road to quality education and all that it means - personal growth, economic success, and a greater range of employment alternatives. For the students who receive these scholarships, they have been handed the chance to overcome circumstance and situation. In answer to the despair voiced by so many, we will have found a solution that is inclusive, fair, and unifying. An equal chance can be given through choice.
What happens here in the District will be observed by the world. We must make this a model effort. We can use this program to significantly improve the D.C. school system. But we can do more. We can end indifference and disregard, uniting the District and our country through the power of knowledge, the moral equity of our institutions, and the inclusive message of our learning environment. That's is how we will best provide educational, political, and cultural leadership for our citizens and for the rest of the world. That is how we will make sure no child is left behind.
My congratulations to the Washington Scholarship Fund.
And my thanks to the Mayor for his bold courage and steadfast vision. I look forward to working with him and with all of you.