DC Promise Act – Not So Promising

On Tuesday, DC Councilmember At-Large, David Catania, introduced a new bill to provide significant college grants for DC students. The bill is called the “D.C. Promise Establishment Act of 2013.” Considering that DC doesn’t have a state-funded university system that is on par with other states, this sounds like a reasonable proposal. Councilmember Catania’s stated purpose for the Act says that, “The ‘D.C. Promise Establishment Act of 2013’ seeks to guarantee that every District student can pursue a college or technical education after high school.” The program is focused on providing the greatest funding for the most needy students. D.C. Promise grants would provide the most generous funding to students in families living at 200% of the poverty level or below. Significant grants would continue to be offered on a sliding scale to students from middle and upper-middle income families, including families earning up to $250,000 per year.

Sadly there is a gap between Catania’s stated purpose and reality. Rather than being a “guarantee” for “every District student,” this newly proposed bill specifically excludes any student who has not been in a DC public or charter school at least through their high school years. The largest grants are reserved for students who have attended public or charter schools from the 6th grade through the 12th grade.  As DC homeschoolers we are being excluded from equal access to these grants, but homeschoolers are not the only ones excluded. Catania appears to think that the Council is justified in excluding students who have attended private schools, because anyone who has attended a private school must not be among the low-income students he is trying to help. Admittedly, private school students are often well-off. However, should that fact mean that low-income DC students who are able to attend private schools on scholarship should be denied grants that are extended to other DC citizens?

This comes down to a simple matter of fairness. We are all DC citizens. We shop in DC, we contribute to our neighborhoods, and we all pay DC taxes. Some of us have chosen a different educational route for our children. We have a variety of reasons, but all of us are parents who desire the best for our children. Why should our educational choices deny us access to grants aimed at making college affordable for “every District student”? Why would we be penalized for trying to do what our hearts told us was in the best interest of our children? Why would the District want to ease a burden for some of its citizens, yet leave another group burdened with college debt just as they are becoming productive adults, entering the workforce, and wanting to move back home?

This proposal has a lot of support on the Council. It was introduced with 10 out of the 13 members of the Council as co-signers. At this point it seems likely to become law.  We have a brief period while it is working its way through the Council to fix the inequity inherent in this proposal. Here’s how you can help:

1) Contact Councilmember Catania’s office. He is the author of this legislation and the Chair of the Education Committee. He is also an at-large member, so he is your representative on the Council.

2) Contact your ward Council member. Because ward Council members have a smaller constituency, they are often easier to reach. Do send e-mails and make phone calls, but please do go beyond that and try to set up meetings with them individually.

3) Contact the other three at-large members. Anita Bonds, David Grosso, and Vincent Orange are also your representatives on the Council. Please contact them.

4) Contact friends in private schools. If you have any friends who are DC citizens who have students who are in private middle schools or high schools, contact them and let them know that they are going to be excluded from this plan unless they help us convince the Council to change their plans.

5) Contact private school administrators. If you have any friends or acquaintances who work for private middle schools or high schools that have a decent number of students from the District, please contact them to let them know that there students will be excluded from significant amounts of funding for college. Please encourage them to contact us here at dchea@dchea.org. It would be great to know that we have other advocates working with us to achieve a change in this law.

Thanks so much for your concern for the future of homeschooling in the District. Together we have changed laws in the past and we can do so again.