Just as the Democratic Party miscalculated the issue of homeland security during the last election cycle due to labor-union pandering, Senate Democrats are in danger of making a similar miscalculation on education policy due to its special-interest pandering to the teachers' union at the expense of Washington, D.C.'s, poorest children, particularly African-American and other minority children trapped in failing schools. Senate Democrats are threatening to obstruct a bill that the House of Representatives approved by a one-vote margin, 209-208, to bring greater opportunity to children of the District of Columbia. It's the legislation to enact Mayor Anthony Williams' plan for school vouchers - in reality they are scholarships - in the district.
Democratic Councilman Kevin Chavous recently wrote President Bush supporting federally funded local scholarship programs, and I hope senators take their lead from him and support the school-voucher amendment to the D.C. Appropriations Bill. It looks like it's going to be a close vote - if it even gets that far since Senate Democrats are threatening to filibuster the proposal out of fear of being on the record voting against the children of D.C. Each senator supporting a filibuster and in effect voting against this bill should be compelled to come before the families affected and explain why they will not allow the district's poorest children to be educated in a better school, why it is right to coerce these children into failing schools and why a handful of Democratic senators is better suited to determine the needs of these children than are their parents.
The House version would provide $10 million available to fund scholarships of up to $7,500 each for about 2,000 of the neediest students in the district, with priority given to those in underperforming schools. This is a solution for the district's unique challenges, and the vote will be an important show of support for district leaders as they seek to improve education in the city, including public, charter and private schools. Williams, Chavous, School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and leading members of the business community have asked for this voucher plan as a part of their strategy. The only outstanding detail is congressional approval of their local plan.
As economist Alan Reynolds pointed out in a recent column, even this tightly rationed version of school choice frightens the bureaucratic gatekeepers who insist on compelling all low-income children to remain locked in failing or poorly performing public schools.