In a largely unreported story, a couple in Pennsylvania is facing charges that could land them in jail for nearly seven years. Their crime? Sending their five year old daughter to a public school outside of their school district.
If it sounds bizarre, that’s because it is. And although breaking the law is never a good thing, the desperate wish of the Garcia family to send their children to a better school is playing out all across our country from sea to shining sea.
The fact is that millions of families have no choice when it comes to deciding on a school that best meets the educational needs of their children. If you are unfortunate enough to live in a school district with ineffective teachers and high crime and violence rates, you are often simply out of luck.
What makes this story from Pennsylvania especially representative of this terrible injustice is that a vast majority of those being deprived of a choice when it comes to education are Hispanic and African-American families. In too many states across the county, only wealthy families have the ability to decide for themselves where to send their children to school. For these families, they can choose to send their children to a better school without being constrained by where they live. Private school choice is a real possibility for these families.
Why not give this same freedom to other families?
This is the question that thousands of families have been asking in cities all across the country as part of the National School Choice Week shining a positive spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children. In rallies in city after city as part of a national whistle-stop tour, families have been joined by lawmakers, advocates and everyday Americans united by the common sense idea that every child should get the best possible education – whether it’s at a public, private, charter school, or through online learning or homeschooling.
And yet, this idea has powerful detractors who are more concerned about protecting the rights and interests of the adults in the system than the educational needs of millions upon millions of children stuck in underperforming schools. Among the fiercest opponents of school choice include the Obama Administration, which has tried to stop meaningful school choice options. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has been serving as a lifeline for thousands of low-income families in our nation’s capital, is a prime example. It’s an effective program: 91 percent of students who used a scholarship to attend a private school of choice in DC graduate high school, and researchers Patrick Wolf and Michael McShane note that every dollar spent yields a $2.62 return on investment. Yet this Administration decided to side with the teachers’ unions and the powerful special interests by trying to eliminate funding for the OSP.
It’s not just choice in the nation’s capital. The Department of Justice spent much of last year suing the state of Louisiana’s school voucher program. Evidently, calls from grateful parents like Ms. Coretta Pittman, who praise the program for the ability to send their children to a safer school, fell on deaf ears at the Department of Justice and the White House.
For all of the President’s calls to increase opportunity in his latest State of the Union, this Administration’s own policies are hindering the ability for hundreds of thousands of students to succeed by attempting to limit their school choice options. Perhaps the President would care to know that in states that have expanded school choice measures, the racial achievement and attainment gaps have begun to narrow.
Until the President and this Administration embrace education reform policies like school choice, his rhetoric on freedom and opportunity will not match up with his actions.
Israel Ortega is the Strategic Initiatives Manager at The Heritage Foundation and the Editor of Libertad.org – The Foundation’s Spanish language website, www.libertad.org