WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed H.R. 10, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to renew the groundbreaking Washington, DC school choice program.
Before the vote, Speaker Boehner addressed the House. Following are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Let me thank my friend for yielding, and thank you to all my colleagues who are supporting this important legislation.
You know, many of us remember the story of The Little Engine That Could. And what happened was, the train full of toys wanted to get over the mountain to get to the kids on the other side.
And the big engine said, ‘no, I can not.’ And the rusty old engine said, ‘no, I can not.’ But the little engine says, ‘I’m not very big, but I think I can, I think I can.
Well, from the beginning, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program has been the little engine that could. We started this back in 2003, with the help of DC’s mayor at the time, Anthony Williams, and DC Councilman Kevin Chavous.
You know, for years, the government was promising the moon to DC families, and spending to the moon essentially. But nothing changed. So we said, if we’re going to support public schools and charter schools, let’s also give low-income families the chance to apply for scholarships to attend the school of their choice. Let’s give them that power.
Because if you have the resources, you already have school choice. You can send your kids to whatever school you want. You can move house and home to do that.
But if you’re poor, and stuck in some bad neighborhood, your child doesn’t have that chance … or ANY chance. They are just dead in the water.
Well, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program has been that little lifeline that could. All told, it has helped more than 6,100 students escape underperforming schools. In that time, the program has received some 16,000 applications.
Last spring, 90 percent of 12th graders using Opportunity Scholarships graduated. And 88 percent enrolled in a two or four-year college. Of the 1,400 students in the program this year, 87.4 percent would have been in a school that the government has identified as in need of improvement.
These are the kind of results parents dream of for their kids. And while it’s my name on this bill, the best champions of this program are some of the most fearless kids you will ever meet.
Not only did they have to overcome the doubts of the education establishment. They also had to withstand efforts by the most powerful people in this town to kill this program.
In May, the Oversight Government Reform Committee heard from Shirley-Ann Tomdio, who graduated from Georgetown Visitation Prep and is now a junior at GW. Her journey began in the 4th grade, when she was transferred from a public school to Sacred Heart thanks to one of these scholarships.
To this day, Shirley said, “OSP continues to instill in me the courage and strength to continue on my journey … and make the most of my opportunities.”
And very recently, I received a letter from Crystina Martinez, a junior at Georgetown Visitation. Crystina writes, “I do not know where I would be if I had not received the opportunity to continue my education in a school that challenges me to be the best that I can be.”
So today, I am asking each of you to support H.R. 10, which reauthorizes this program for another five years. And here’s why.
Yes, this issue is personal to me, and it has been for a long time. But frankly, it ought to be personal to everyone in this chamber. Those of us who work here, who make a good living here, owe something to the kids in this city. We owe the kids in this city a chance – a fighting chance.
That is what I am asking you to do today. Help these kids get over the mountain. Help us keep building the little movement that could.