Talk about the audacity of “nope.”
“When parents recognize which schools are failing to educate their children,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in a guest column in The Wall Street Journal, “they will demand more effective options for their kids.”
Americans “must close the achievement gap by pursuing what works best for kids, regardless of ideology,” Duncan urged, echoing a theme of President Barack Obama’s address to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “In the path to a better education system, that’s the only test that really matters.”
What about the smell test? Duncan’s assertion may have sounded good to many parents, but as we’ve already noted, it came only two weeks after he delivered bad news to 200 low-income families in Washington, D.C.: The Obama administration was taking back $7,500 scholarships that gave children in those families a way out of failing public schools.
What Duncan didn’t explain is why the Obama administration would say “nope” to these kids and future applicants. Or why he would acquiesce to the raw, ideology-based determination of the teachers’ unions and liberals in Congress to pull the plug on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program after next school year.
The number of votes arrayed against these in-demand scholarships for poor kids was especially intriguing in light of Heritage’s new survey on how many members of Congress enjoyed exercising their own “private school choice.”
As the chart shows, fully 38 percent of those in Congress — 44 percent in the Senate, 36 percent in the House — sent one or more children to private school. About 20 percent attended private school themselves, nearly twice the rate of the public.
Surprisingly, the Congressional Black Caucus — more than a third of whose members sent children to private school — didn’t step up to save the $14 million scholarship program, which serves 1,700 children.
You’d think some of these guys would be impressed by the assessment of D.C. Opportunity Scholarships by Duncan’s own Department of Education. It found, for instance, that students enrolled the longest in a private or charter school under the program read at a level up to two years ahead of applicants who had to stay in public schools.
But senators and representatives didn’t have a chance to read that study. (Sound familiar?)
George Will called them out:
After Congress debated the program, the Department of Education released — on a Friday afternoon, a news cemetery — a congressionally mandated study showing that, measured by student improvement and parental satisfaction, the District’s program works. The department could not suppress The Heritage Foundation’s report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools.
The Senate voted 58-39 to kill the program. Heritage reports that if the senators who have exercised their ability to choose private schools had voted to continue the program that allows less-privileged parents to make that choice for their children, the program would have been preserved.”
On school choice, Congress looks increasingly out of step with parents: Eleven states offer voucher programs, seven offer scholarship tax credits. Private-school scholarships last year helped 171,000 children — a jump of 89 percent since 2004.
“From 2007 to 2008, 44 states introduced school-choice legislation,” Heritage researcher Lindsey Burke notes in her paper on the survey findings.
So why did the National Education Association and other special interests that contribute generously to politicians fight so hard to end a little D.C. scholarship program?
“One likely reason: fear,” Heritage senior analyst Dan Lips writes in an op-ed co-authored with Burke.
Once other parents see that giving families the power to choose the best school for their kids can improve students’ performance, they might demand to have school choice for their children.”
Now that sounds like the kind of parental empowerment Arne Duncan and Barack Obama say they believe in.