The deeply flawed D.C. private school voucher program clearly needs more accountability, not less, yet the Trump administration is walking away from its responsibility to protect D.C. students. In their latest troubling move, the Trump-DeVos Department of Education has proposed waiving this year’s program management grant competition, thus giving the Serving Our Children organization more competition-free time in charge. The National Coalition for Public Education, which includes People For the American Way and PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, shared its concerns with the Department on February 23. An excerpt from those comments follows below. Click here to download a PDF copy of the full comments.
The DC Voucher Program Repeatedly Lacks Competent Administration
Serving Our Children (2015-present)
In 2015, a new organization, Serving Our Children, was awarded the grant to administer the DC voucher program. Since that time, GAO has not issued any reports to determine whether the persistent weaknesses in administration have been resolved. Thus, we do not know if Serving Our Children is adequately administering the program or not. Yet, in a Congressional oversight committee hearing in December of 2015, the new administrator of the program was unable to provide basic program to the committee, such as what percentage of each voucher school’s population comprised students using a voucher.17
The GAO reports and congressional hearings make clear that the Department should take steps to provide better oversight of the DC voucher program, not less. Given the history of the program’s repeated mismanagement, it would be appropriate for the Department to call for increased oversight and accountability measures, including allowing for a new grant competition in 2018.
The Department Should Verify Information from Serving Our Children
The Department states that extending the project period and waiving the competition this year will help Serving Our Children “fully implement the new recruitment and marketing strategies” it has created to increase student participation. But the organization has already had three years to employ those strategies. And without more information on whether these strategies have been implemented or successful, it is difficult to know whether the continuation of the grant is merited. The Department should verify that Serving Our Children has been fulfilling these objectives and not simply extend the period of the grant.
Furthermore, in order for a grantee to continue to receive a continuation award it must meet the requirements of 34 CFR 75.253, including submitting annual performance reports and financial expenditure reports. In an effort to increase transparency, the Department should confirm and verify that these reports have been submitted and determine whether they demonstrate that Serving Our Children has been adequately administering the program.
17 Reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Hearing before the S. Comm. on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, 114th Congress (2015) (testimony of Kevin Chavous, Serving Our Children).