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Ryan Promises to ‘Expand’ D.C. School Choice Program

Parents, students and administrators take part in a rally in support of school choice Jan. 24, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Ohio) vowed to make the expansion of the District of Columbia school choice program known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program “a priority” in this Congress.

“We finally have a president and vice president who believe in school choice and soon we will have a new education secretary who believes in school choice,” he said last week during a National School Choice Week rally. “We are working to expand the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and we will make it a priority this spring. We are going to be there with you every step of the way.”

The program expired in 2009 when President Obama took office but was revived in 2011.

“Think about it. We live in a time when you can use your phone to customize your life. So why would we limit you to a certain school in a certain ZIP code, even if that school is failing you? That is just wrong,” Ryan said.

“In America, we think much, much bigger than that. In America, we believe that the condition of your birth does not affect the outcome of your life,” he added.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos’ school choice advocacy would create more opportunities for children.

“We stand on the verge of the successful confirmation of a woman who for the last 28 years has been dedicated to the school choice moment: Betsy DeVos,” he said. “This is a good day, and there will be more and more opportunities for kids trapped in failing schools to find their way to success.”

Scott said he is a “fan” of school choice because he wants a “quality school in every ZIP code in the country, because you all have amazing potential and school choice gives you a chance to maximize your potential.”

Opponents of DeVos’ nomination have said that school choice hurts the public school system.

“Rather than impoverishing some school districts and some schools by removing parents who have the best means and the best mobility from those schools, we should be ensuring that those [public] schools are strong and provide parents with the ultimate choice, which is to send their children to their neighborhood schools, to the school that is closest to them, to the school with which they have a relationship,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said on a recent conference call with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Two Republican senators have announced their opposition to DeVos, meaning Vice President Mike Pence may have to break a tie in the Senate.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), who formed the School Choice Caucus, said school choice programs are important because “we need to ensure as a nation that every kid in America has a chance to go to a quality school and the only way to do that is to empower parents and make sure they can decide what’s best for their kids.”

Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) also addressed the rally.

“It’s exciting to see so many young kids fulfilling their dreams and celebrating school choice,” he said.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Va.) said she is “committed” to tackling the challenge of expanding school choice programs to more students and families.

“Let’s help expand that hope and opportunity to every community across the country. We’re very fortunate now to have a new Congress and a new Republican administration, as you’ve heard before, who will agree with us on the issues about delivering real choice more than ever before. I’m encouraged by the momentum that’s already building and look forward to that work ahead,” she said.