Why is Obama Turning His Back on School Vouchers?

Daniel Doherty

2/16/2012 11:47:00 AM - Daniel Doherty

Via the Wall Street Journal:

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama spoke about the importance of kids staying in school and even urged states to raise the dropout age to 18. So it's passing strange that his new $3.8 trillion budget provides no new money for a school voucher program in Washington, D.C., that is producing significantly higher graduation rates than the D.C. public school average.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program offers vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools. A 2010 study published by Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas found that the scholarship recipients had graduation rates of 91%. The graduation rate for D.C. public schools was 56%, and it was 70% for students who entered the lottery for a voucher but didn't win.

The U.S. spends more money on public education than any other nation on earth. And what do we have to show for it? A recent study shows that the United States ranks 25th in math and 21st in science amongst industrialized nations. What’s worse, 70 percent of eighth graders cannot read at a proficient level and more than 1 million high school students drop out every year. These are not encouraging statistics.

Of course, we need a system that provides innovative ways for low-income students to develop critical skills and receive the education they deserve. The aforementioned empirical data alone suggests that the Opportunity Scholarship Program is helping hundreds – perhaps thousands – of students in D.C. graduate from high school and achieve their dreams. So why, then, has the president refused to appropriate funds in his 2013 budget for a school voucher program that is clearly working?

The answer is as obvious as it is predictable: the teachers unions. Since the teachers union is an important Obama constituency, providing funds to the program would not be smart politics in an election year. Indeed, this special interest group has almost single-handedly curtailed public education reform for decades. By opposing merit-based pay, charter schools and school vouchers, children eager to escape failing and underperforming school districts have suffered immensely.

Sadly, President Obama’s decision to stop funding school vouchers in the capital – while at the same time committing himself to subsidizing Solyndra-esque “green energy” firms, for example – suggests he cares infinitely more about winning reelection than the countless low-income students who would undoubtedly benefit from the program.