On Thursday March 12th, when President Obama signed H.R. 1105 — The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 — he allowed the DC school voucher system to expire. While Obama did not publicly speak out against the vouchers, his silence is an all-clear for Democrats in Congress who have put language in the omnibus spending bill that would end the program after next year.
The White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, made it clear that “The president doesn’t believe that vouchers are a long-term answer to our educational problems and the challenges that face our public school system, where the vast majority of — of students are educated in this country.”
Republican Senator John Ensign (Nv.) said that Democrats are forsaking the children to support the teachers’ lobbies, such as the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers. Ensign said his goal was to “put kids ahead of the special interest groups”. Obama wanted to downplay the nearly 9000 earmarks in the $410B Omnibus spending Bill and, as is the norm, the media marched along in lockstep. I suppose that’s par for the course, so let’s move on. Let’s, instead, discuss the school vouchers the Obama administration canceled.
Nearly 2000 Washington, DC students have had a chance to better themselves by participating in a school voucher “test” program. Whether the reason is unions, an all or none mentality, or whatever, our lack-luster leader has decided that only wealthy kids – such as his – deserve the advantages of attending more successful private schools.
According to the DC Education Blog, Washington, DC is one of the highest spending school systems in the Country at nearly $13,500 per student. At the same time, the system’s achievement rate is abysmal and graduation rates are average at best. In fact, according to The New America Foundation, if DC were a state, it would finish ahead of New Jersey, the current leader, by a wide margin in spending per student.
Clearly, throwing more good money after bad at the problem can not be the answer!
By all accounts, vouchers seem to be a good thing. In virtually every case where tested, they’ve been successful for everyone involved except, of course, the teacher’s unions. In the DC program for example, vouchers are given to families of students to allow them to select private schools. The vouchers are worth $7500, which represents a savings of roughly $6000 per student in the DC district. At 1700 students, that represents a savings of over $10M per year. $10M is a significant amount of money that can undoubtedly be used to improve the district in other areas.
We know that competition breeds success. In other districts where vouchers have been tested, everyone succeeds. Students using the vouchers see increased test scores, the private schools continue to thrive, and even the public schools improve, as competition forces them to overhaul and provide better services.
With all the available data proving vouchers work, why wouldn’t our President want the children of DC to succeed?
CNN contributor Roland Martin has suggested that it is an "all or nothing" mentality. Obama and the Democrats contend that since every student can’t be helped by vouchers, none should be helped. He further details an example about medicine needed for vaccinations. Essentially, it’s the same idea – if it doesn’t help everyone, then it should not be available to those it does help.
In my view, this goes far beyond canceling a successful program. The action taken by the Obama administration regarding the DC vouchers is deliberate and entirely political, done to benefit the teachers’ unions. Obama had a clear choice to make- support the children, or support the unions. He chose the latter to the detriment of some kids who really needed the help. Now that’s “change we can believe in.” I’m sure the union leadership reminded Obama that they, not the children, voted in droves for him last November.
So what about the 1700 kids directly affected by Obama’s actions? In the words of Tony Soprano, Fugeddaboudit. After all, the world needs ditch-diggers too, right?