Obama's Hypocrisy on School Choice

President Obama is vehemently opposed to school choice, but had the audacity to invite the children profiled in Waiting for Superman to the White House for a photo-op on Monday. The documentary Waiting for Superman is about the failure of the U.S. education system, as seen through the eyes of five children who are desperate to get into charter schools.

Obama’s slavish devotion to the teachers’ unions has led him to consistently oppose school vouchers. But, that didn’t stop him from using students from the documentary as political props in his Oval Office photo-op.

The D.C. public school system is controlled by the federal government and is considered the worst system in the nation.  Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan have shut down D.C.’s popular, federally funded voucher program that allows low-income families in the District to send their children to private schools.

Obama and his cohorts in the Democratic-controlled Congress have killed the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which chooses low-income families from a lottery to receive $7,500 in vouchers for private or parochial school. There have been four applicants for every slot in the scholarship program.

In the President’s budget for 2011, he reduced by 25% the funding for the voucher program, from $12 to $9 million. He did this despite the fact that seven out of ten parents in D.C. want the program expanded.

Duncan has led the charge to kill school choice despite his own department’s research showing that students in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program perform better in reading than non-voucher students.

“He needs to look outside at his own neighborhood in D.C. There are thousands of kids whose lives literally hang in the balance as they wait to find out if the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the voucher program, will continue or not,” says Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation.

“And if he really cares about giving students a choice to get out of these poor performing schools, he would stand up for the voucher program.”

The President also inserted a poison pill in his 2011 budget, which closes the voucher program to any new students with the words that it is “the final request for federal funding.” The poison-pill closure of the program originally was put into law by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) who slipped it into the omnibus spending bill in 2009.

As a result, the Department of Education sent 216 public school students letters last year accepting them into the voucher program. Days later, these families were devastated to receive letters from the department rescinding their scholarships. Many of these children were thus denied the freedom to attend private schools and the ones in the program do not know if they will be able to stay in their schools.

“As we’re seeing the President meet with these kids and we’re hearing him say, ‘Kids should have options.’ At the same time he’s phasing out the best option imaginable here in D.C., which is this voucher program,” says Burke of the photo op.

Obama is an avowed supporter of teachers’ unions, which oppose school choice and reform. He said in an NBC interview recently, “I have said to [teachers’ unions]—and what Arne Duncan, my secretary of education has said to them—is ‘We want to work with you. We’re not interested in imposing changes on you.'”

                                       Photo courtesy of Athena G. Jones

Obama’s hypocrisy is exacerbated by the fact that he attended private school in Hawaii on a scholarship and sends his children to private school.  

The President and his wife Michelle send their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, to the elite private academy, Sidwell Friends, which costs over $32,000 a year. President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton also sent their daughter Chelsea to Sidwell.  

“President Obama received a private scholarship as a child to go to private school. He sends his children to private school,” says Burke. “Clearly they value school choice for themselves, so it’s a matter of expanding those options to other families.” 

Obama was asked during a live call-in show on NBC recently about sending his daughters to private school and if he thought his daughters could get “get the same high-quality, rigorous education in a D.C. public school as compared to their very elite private academy that they’re attending now?”

“I’ll be blunt with you. The answer’s no right now. The D.C. public school systems are struggling,” responded Obama. 

The film Waiting for Superman follows five public school students in cities around the country who are desperately trying to win a slot in a lottery for entrance into high performing charter schools.

The popular D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has successfully taken on the powerful teachers unions in D.C., is featured in the Superman film. Rhee was asked about President Obama’s opposition to school choice in an an interview with Roland Martin. Rhee said, “I also want choice not to be reserved for those who can afford it. I want choice to be available to all families.”

The President also said that “charter schools are not a panacea.” His Socialist worldview seems to be all or nothing when it comes to improving the failing public school system. “Reform is hard. It’s systematic. It takes time,” the President said. 

America’s failure to give our children a decent education is a crisis that is worsening the longer Obama is in the White House. President Obama’s shows the utmost hypocrisy by using the Waiting for Superman students as a political photo op, when he is the strongest opponent to school choice.

After the photo op, the children watched from the White House balcony as the President flew off on his Marine One helicopter to a political fundraiser. After the big public show at the White House, these five students will return to their disastrous public schools tomorrow. Thanks, Mr. President.