Norton has disguised her opposition to school choice behind the rhetorical cloak of "home rule." (Choosing to abort one's children is a sacred right, you see. But allowing parents to choose the best schools is a threat to democracy.) Norton complains that a completely voluntary pilot program offering educational scholarships to poor students and parents in D.C. threatens the district's right of self-governance. The liberal Washington Post dismissed such hysterics as nonsense in a recent editorial: "(A)ny suggestion that a federally funded voucher pilot program is being imposed on the District by the federal government is false. Nor is the program designed to supplant federal funding already available to D.C. public schools and public charter schools."
What Norton and the unions most fear is the right of educational self-governance by parents. More and more families are trying to escape the public school prison by any means necessary. The non-profit Washington Scholarship Fund offers private vouchers to nearly 1,200 D.C.-area students. Demand is overwhelming. Home-schooling by black parents is on the rise. Polls show that increasing numbers of black Americans, especially those younger than 35, favor school choice.
Mayor Williams, who attended Catholic schools in the district, is not alone among black Democrat politicians in supporting the pilot voucher program. D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, who represents a predominantly black ward, is also a product of Catholic schools and sends his son to a Catholic school, also backs the plan. "The really big problem with public education has been its unwillingness to look at itself and change," Chavous noted last week. "No school bureaucracy will reform itself internally. It only comes through pressure. And the most effective form of pressure is choice."
Former D.C. Council chairman Sterling Tucker agrees. "There's no question in my mind how the people feel. People want to get their children the best." Choice through vouchers is "the key that unlocks them out of the ghetto."
Twirling her nightstick and wielding brass knuckles, Eleanor Holmes Norton refuses to let her people go.