Flaws and Failings

Washington Scholarship Fund Essentially Chosen by Default

The Washington Scholarship Fund was essentially chosen by default to administer the voucher program

In enacting the federal legislation creating the D.C. voucher program, Congress envisioned that the program would be administered by one or more “eligible entities” chosen “on a competitive basis.” Pub. L. No. 108-199, Div. C, Title III, Sec. 304 (a). On February 4, 2004, pursuant to that legislation, DOE issued a notice in the Federal Register inviting applications from entities seeking an award to administer the voucher program. 69 Fed. Reg. 5434 (Feb. 4, 2004). While this solicitation also envisioned the competitive process required by the statute, no genuine competition in fact occurred. According to the documents provided to us by DOE, the Washington Scholarship Fund was the only local entity to apply to administer the voucher program,39 and only one other applicant, located in Chicago, submitted an application at all.40

On March 24, 2004, DOE issued a press release announcing that, in conjunction with the Mayor’s office, it had selected WSF to administer the voucher program. The dearth of applicants was not mentioned in the release. To the contrary, the release implicitly suggested that WSF had been chosen competitively from among a number of applicants, noting that Secretary of Education Paige had “announced the competition for selecting the administrator last month.”41 WSF’s own press release of March 24, 2004 gave the same impression, announcing that WSF “ha[d] been selected” by DOE and the Mayor’s office to administer the voucher program, and was “chosen to operate the program through a competitive application process.”42 The grant award to WSF is in the amount of $12.5 million for the first year.

Correspondence produced by the Department of Education indicates that not all voucher proponents were satisfied with WSF’s efforts to roll out the voucher program. For example, an e-mail circulated by Brian McManus of Golden Rule [Insurance Company] on May 7, 2004 claimed that “[t]he demand is there, but the marketing plan has failed because WSF didn’t start out in the community centers. Yesterday, one parent complained that WSF wasn’t reaching the community . . . Our opinions weren’t sought on how to role this out or [sic] invited to any planning meetings.” E-mail from Brian McManus to unnamed recipients (May 7, 2004). This e-mail prompted Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education Nina Rees to attempt to shut down the criticism: “I am not sure what an e-mail like this is supposed to accomplish. We are all working very hard to get this program up and running. Getting notes like these is extremely demoralizing – and ends up wasting precious energy that could be spent on the program. . . If you have a specific recommendation at this point, let me know.” E-mail from Nina Rees to Pat [last name withheld by DOE] (May 11, 2004).43

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