Scholarships at Risk

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

Scholarships at Risk


Byline: J. William Reed, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The First Family's dog-shopping experience is a testament to the benefits of choice. Soon, the president, his wife, and his daughters reportedly will welcome a Portuguese Water Dog into the White House.

But if the president (and congressional Democrats) practiced what they preached, his family wouldn't have that choice. In fact, someone else would get to do the choosing.

Last week, Democrats in Congress inserted a provision into the 2009 omnibus spending bill that would threaten the future of the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a voucher program that lets low-income families send their children to the private schools of their choice. More than 1,700 students participate, each receiving up to $7,500 for tuition, fees and transportation costs - considerably less than the $14,400 it costs on average to educate a student in D.C. public schools.

Democrats stipulated that future appropriations for OSP will require Congress' reauthorization and the D.C. Council's approval. Although the language doesn't kill the program, it certainly doesn't help it. Nor does it help OSP's longevity when President Obama and the District's delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, are vocal critics of such programs.

In July 2008, Mr. Obama told the American Federation of Teachers he is against using public money for private school vouchers, insisting [w]e need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools, not throwing our hands up and walking away from them.

The fact is, Mr. Obama himself walked away from them. His two daughters attended private school in Chicago and currently do so in D.C. That aside, the objection of sending public money to private institutions is convoluted. After all, it's the private sector providing those funds to the public sector in the first place. That money is an extension of the people, and if the people want choice they should get it. And they do - at least for now.

There are currently 18 private school choice programs in existence, affecting 171,000 students in 10 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Alliance for School Choice. That number is growing annually, most recently with Louisiana passing legislation that allows low-income students in underperforming New Orleans public schools to attend private ones. Polling data also are telling.

According to a 2008 Education Next/Harvard PEPG survey, 65 percent of African-Americans support private school vouchers for low-income students (14 percent opposed).

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