Education is among one of the top political priorities for American families. In a place like Washington, DC, where the public schools demonstrate a dismal return, school choice is essential for families who want more for their kids.
Since January 2004, the DC Opportunity Scholarship program has provided more than 1700 kids annually a chance for a better education. The scholarship vouchers of up to $7,500 may soon be nonexistent thanks to a Congress and a President not interested in keeping the program alive.
The new $410 billion spending package (nicknamed "son of stimulus" by Indiana Congressman Mike Pence), includes a provision that will end funding for the successful program. The language concludes that the DC City Council would have to approve the re-authorization of program funding and according to Executive Director of DC Parents for School Choice Virginia Walden Ford, there is "virtually no support on the council."
Ford also said that President Obama has not publicly declared an opinion but he has "made it clear to us....he does not support this program."
In 2008, the Department of Education found that students in the program performed better academically and the Heritage Foundation reports strong parental satisfaction as well. Voices of School Choice features numerous videos of parental testimonies to the great difference the vouchers have made in their childrens' lives.
Part of the problem is Del. Eleanor Norton Holmes (D-D.C.), who has vocalized intention to phase out the program. According to Washington Post staff writers, Holmes opposes it in part because she fears vouchers harm the public school system.
Ford noted that Holmes is a "powerful" figure and "a lot of people do not want to step on her toes." But with 83% of public school children not meeting "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind, what acceptable option does the city leave?
When government aims for less individual choice, they are not looking out for the people. Parents and children should be first priority here, not public schools, the teachers union or any other big government endeavor that blurs names and faces into a collective statistic.
If this provision succeeds, 1715 children will be affected for the 2010 school year. 1715 D.C. children will not have the opportunity for a better education. With efforts around the country following the national lead, it could be detrimental to the school choice movement as a whole.
"I believe it would give those in the states who oppose school choice the ammunition they need to go after State programs," Ford wrote in an email. "The eyes of the world watch D.C. and if this program is ended it will be devastating to programs either already in existence or to future programs."
If you want your member of Congress to know how you feel, find them here and speak out on behalf of school choice.