Congress’s reauthorization of a program that provides tuition assistance for low-income District students to attend private and charter schools has been hailed by the Archdiocese of Washington’s superintendent of schools as “incredible news.”

“Many of our schools and parents in the District of Columbia advocated for the reauthorization, and we applaud their efforts,” said William Ryan, the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington. “We are extremely appreciative of Congress’s commitment to this important program.”

Congress on Dec. 19 reauthorized for four years the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, which includes the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). OSP provides federally funded vouchers for low-income students to attend a school of their choice.

Several Catholic schools participate in the program, which is the only federally funded school voucher program in the nation.

Brian Radziwill, the director of government programs in the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office, noted that the goal of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and the mission of the 18 Catholic schools in the city that participate in the program “go hand-in-hand, to make sure a quality education is available to every child in the District, regardless of economic status.”

“The SOAR Act provides funding for all three education sectors – public, public charter, and private – so this is a win for all D.C. children and families,” he added.

Since its inception in 2004, the voucher program has awarded 10,701 scholarships to kindergarten through 12th grade students from low-income families, giving them the opportunity to attend the school of their choice.

The scholarship program features a three-sector approach providing equal additional federal funding to support public, charter and non-public educational choices for children in Washington, D.C. The legislation has also required strict accountability measures for nonpublic schools attended by the scholarship recipients.

The Archdiocese of Washington has supported the program's reauthorization and the D.C. Catholic Conference and other organizations mobilized a grassroots campaign to support it.

“Due to the hard work of the Archdiocese of Washington, especially Archbishop Gregory, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, our school choice advocacy partners and key congressional champions we were again able to ensure that D.C. families that have financial hardships will continue to have access to our excellent Catholic schools,” superintendent Ryan said.

Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California. chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Education Committee, said in a statement reported by the Catholic News Service that he was “grateful to the United States Congress for reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.”

He said the voucher program reinforces the idea long promoted by the Catholic Church that “parents have the right and responsibility to serve as the primary educators of their children.”

The average annual income for families receiving Opportunity Scholarship Program scholarships is just over $23,200. Nearly three-quarters of scholarship recipients are African American, and more than 17 percent are Hispanic. The high school graduation rate of participating students is 95 percent, and 87 percent go on to a two- or four-year college or university.

Vincent Spadoni, president of the Consortium of Catholic Academies, said that he was “excited to learn about the reauthorization of the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results.”

The Consortium of Catholic Academies is a coalition of four inner-city Catholic elementary schools in the District of Columbia: St. Anthony School, Sacred Heart School, St. Francis Xavier Academy, and St. Thomas More Academy.

“These scholarships afford so many boys and girls in our consortium the opportunity to benefit from an exemplary Catholic education,” Spadoni said. “The scholarship program has been a gift to us, and I am delighted to know that it will continue into the future.”

According to Serving Our Children, which administers the scholarship program, for the 2019-2020 school year, individual scholarship awards were made up to $13,534 for high school students and up to $9,022 for elementary and middle school students.

OSP funds may be used to pay for tuition, uniforms, books, and other school-related fees at any schools participating in the program.