This morning on the Today Show, host Matt Lauer sat down with President Obama to discuss his Administration’s policies on school reform. Toward the end of the interview, a viewer’s question on President Obama’s decision to send his children to private school spurred a discussion about school choice.
Viewer: “As a father of two very delightful and seemingly very bright daughters, I wanted to know whether or not you think that Malia and Sasha would get the same high-quality, rigorous education in a D.C. public school, as compared to their very elite private academy that they’re attending now?”
Obama: “I’ll be blunt with you. The answer’s ‘no’ right now. The D.C. public school systems are struggling. Now, they have made some important strides over the years to move in the direction of reform; there are some terrific individual schools in the D.C. system. And that’s true by the way in every city across the country. In my hometown of Chicago there are some great public schools that are on par with any private school in the country. But it goes to the point Matt and I were talking about earlier. A lot of times you’ve got to test in, or it’s a lottery pick for you to be able to get into those schools and so those options are not available for enough children. I’ll be very honest with you. Given my position, if I wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha to be in, we could probably maneuver to do it. But the broader problem is: For a mom or a dad who are working hard but don’t have a bunch of connections, don’t have a choice in terms of where they live, they should be getting the same quality education as anybody else, and they don’t have that yet.”
President Obama is absolutely right. Why, then, is his administration standing idly by as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) is being phased out?
For the past six years, the DCOSP has been one of the only lifelines for poor families in the District to escape the public school system, where less than half of children graduate high school, only 11 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading, and one in eight students reports being threatened with a weapon on school grounds. Yet under President Obama’s watch, and at the behest of the powerful education unions, this option is being yanked from the hands of D.C. families.
Earlier in the interview, Lauer asked the President about the new film Waiting for Superman and his reaction to seeing children’s educational futures being determined by a lottery. The President responds:
It’s heartbreaking. And when you see these parents in the film, you are reminded that—I don’t care what people’s income levels are—their stake in their kids, they’re wanting desperately to make sure their kids are able to succeed, is so powerful, and it’s obviously difficult to watch to see these kids who know that this school is going to give them a better chance, that that should depend on the bounce of a ball.
True enough. But last spring, 216 children in D.C. had scholarships rescinded by the Department of Education, in some cases just days after receiving notices that they would have the opportunity to escape the D.C. public school system and attend a private school of their choice. President Obama indeed chose a school that he thought would best meet the needs of his daughters—as was his right to do. But every parent should have that choice. And for the past six years, thousands of low-income parents in the nation’s capital have also had that choice. It’s shameful that politics is jeopardizing that option. If the President were really concerned with expanding educational options, he would fight for school choice to be not only preserved in the District but expanded to all families who desire a brighter educational future for their children.