Obama and D.C. School Choice

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Posted: Jan 08, 2010 4:28 PM

I think most people would agree that education is very important. It is what moves societies forward, and enables societies to continue into the future. Today I attended a non-partisan forum at the National Press Club featuring Juan Williams, titled Will Congress and President Obama Save the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program? Low-income families across the District of Columbia have been devastated by the news that Congress and the Obama administration has approved legislation that has ended the federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which since 2004 has helped thousands of disadvantaged children attend good schools chosen by their parents.

Juan Williams of NPR, the moderator; along with Kevin Chavous, former D.C. City Councilmember; Virginia Walden Ford of D.C. Parents for School Choice; and Dan Lips, senior education policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, all expressed their passion for the importance of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Chavous stated that “this is a sense of urgency, a moral imperative that is unacceptable to not allow kids to get an education right now.”

 Ford echoed in frustration with the Obama Administration, which has not jumped to help keep this program alive.  “If it had not been for school choice Obama would not be where he is today,” stated Ford.

Juan Williams interjected that this is clearly a non-partisan issue, and that our president clearly is exercising school choice when it comes to his children. Therefore, inner city parents should have the right to send their children to the best schools if they can.

Dan Lips introduced factual evidence from the U.S. State Department which did a 2009 study between D.C. Opportunity Scholarship students and D.C. public school students. There were significantly higher gains amongst D.C. Opportunity Scholarship students in reading achievement, and these students were also four months ahead in reading than public school students. If anything Lips stated, “the program should be expanded.”

So the real question is “what can be done?” Ford gave feasible solutions that can be done to help reinstate the scholarship for D.C. and other inner city students that are facing similar issue of having their program ended. So here they are: talk with Congress members, the media should continue to write stories to alert the people, a floor debate in the Senate, make donations to organizations that are specifically committed to parental school choice, and the public should make calls to Congress to support the cause when necessary.

School choice for former D.C. scholarship students has showed significant success. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue; it is an American issue for the future of this nation. “The education of our youth cannot be put on the backburner,” stated Ford. In the words of one of the parents who was in poverty and a substance abuser himself, but worked hard to get his son a scholarship, and later turned his own life around stated “not only does the program change the lives of children, it changes the lives of parents and communities.”