A rally to promote school choice shook D.C.’s Upper Senate Park on Wednesday after President Obama and the U.S. Congress announced plans to axe the program for the upcoming school year. That decision was made after 216 students received letters that said they would be able to participate in the program.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program provided the chance at attending a private school for 3,300 students since 2004, was widely recognized as one of the most effective government programs ever run. Critics said the reason the program was axed was because of teachers unions, party politics, and bad decision-making.
“We’re here to make sure 216 kids are not lost,” said Phillip Stutts, who has volunteered with low-income D.C. students for almost a decade. “We all want public schools, and we’re all for public schools, but until they’re fixed, we cannot leave a generation of kids behind.”
Sponsored by the D.C. Black Alliance for Educational Options, the rally was attended by about 2,000 people – mostly students bussed in from privately-operated schools in the district. They wore yellow shirts over their school uniforms and chanted “Save school choice!”
A number of prominent school choice advocates spoke at the rally, including Rep. John Boehner, former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, D.C. Councilman Marion Barry, and Bruce Stewart, and former head of Sidwell Friends School, which President Obama’s two young girls currently attend.
Many of the adults who attended were parents who had taken a day off work, such as Anthony Moten, a parent of a 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy in the D.C. public school system.
“I don’t know that school choice is going to make a difference, but I do know it could make a difference,” he said, adding, “It’s good experience to make a decision. You have the government say ‘do this, do that, do this, do that,’ and you feel like a puppet.”
James Tolbert, with a daughter in Moten Elementary school in Southeast D.C., felt similarly.
“I want my child to be better than I am,” he said. “God gave you free will. We have to make decisions.”