Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed House amended (10/21/2015)

Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reauthorization Act or the SOAR Reauthorization Act

(Sec. 3) This bill amends the District of Columbia Code to prohibit the Department of Education from limiting the number of eligible students receiving District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) scholarships, and from preventing otherwise eligible students from participating in the OSP because of:

  • the type of school the student previously attended; or
  • whether or not the individual previously received the scholarship or participated in OSP, or was a member of the control group used by the Institute of Education Sciences to carry out previous OSP evaluations.

This prohibition may not be construed to waive the requirements under the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act (SOAR) that the entity implementing the OSP must implement a random selection process giving weight to SOAR priorities if more eligible students seek admission in the OSP than it can accommodate.

(Sec. 4) An eligible nonprofit organization's application for an OSP grant must include how it will ensure that it utilizes internal fiscal and quality controls.

(Sec. 5) Priorities for the award of scholarships to eligible students are modified to give priority to students who:

  • in the preceding school year attended a school identified as one of the lowest-performing schools under the DC accountability system (currently certain elementary or secondary schools identified for improvements, corrective action, or restructuring), and
  • certain students regardless of whether they have attended a private school.

(Sec. 6) OSP-participating schools must:

  • conduct criminal background checks on school employees who have direct and unsupervised interactions with students, and
  • comply with all requests for data and information regarding SOAR reporting requirements.

Participating private schools must be provisionally or fully accredited, or in the process of seeking accreditation:

  • within one year after enactment of this Act; and
  • within five years after such enactment, must be accredited.

An eligible entity may extend this deadline for a single one-year period if the school provides it with evidence from an accrediting body that its application for accreditation is in process and that it will be awarded accreditation before the end of such period.

After notifying the eligible entity, non-participating private schools seeking to participate in the OSP, and meeting all other requirements, must also be provisionally or fully accredited, or in the process of seeking accreditation within such five-year period. The entity may also extend this deadline for such period.

The Department must make OSP funds available to eligible entities receiving a grant for administrative expenses and parental education and assistance, including streamlining of the application process.

The Department must make previously unobligated OSP funds for any fiscal year (including one occurring before enactment of this Act) available to award new scholarships to students during the next fiscal year and (if still unobligated at the end of that fiscal year) any subsequent fiscal year.

(Sec. 7) The Department must ensure that the evaluation of scholarship students is conducted using an acceptable quasi-experimental research design for determining the effectiveness of the OSP without using a control study group consisting of students who applied for, but did not receive, opportunity scholarships.

The Institute of Education Sciences of the Department must assess participating eligible students in each of grades 3 through 8, and 1 of the grades in the high school level, by supervising the administration of the same reading and math assessment used by the DC public schools to comply with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

This bill also, however, repeals the requirement that the Institute use a grade appropriate, nationally norm-referenced standardized test each school year to assess participating eligible students.

The Department must: (1) terminate the current OSP evaluation procedures after obtaining data for the 2015-2016 school year; and (2) submit the required SOAR reports for them. The Department shall conduct new evaluations for the 2016-2017 school year in accordance with SOAR's procedures as amended by this section. As a component of the new evaluations, the Department shall continue to monitor and evaluate the students evaluated in the most recent evaluation before the enactment of this Act, along with their corresponding test scores and other information.

The DC Mayor shall ensure that all DC public schools and public charter schools make available to the Institute of Education Sciences all the information the Institute requires to carry out assessments and perform evaluations.

(Sec. 8) The Department's authority is revised for withholding specified OSP funds provided to the DC Mayor for DC public and charter schools for noncompliance with SOAR requirements.

The Department must also direct to the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) the funds provided to support DC public charter schools, and the OSSE may transfer them to subgrantees that are:

  • specific DC public charter schools in good standing or networks of such schools, or
  • DC-based non-profit organizations with experience in successfully providing support or assistance to such schools or networks.

The OSSE and the DC Charter School Board may not restrict the availability of such funds to certain types of schools based on their location, governing body, or any other characteristic.

(Sec. 9) The Department and the Mayor shall revise the memorandum of understanding in effect to address the need to ensure that participating schools meet fire code standards and maintain certificates of occupancy.

(Sec. 10) The OSP is reauthorized through FY2021.