An unsettling setback

It may have drawn bigger headlines if President Obama had supported the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, but his continued opposition to the program is all the more disappointing for its tenor. The White House’s most recent assertion that the program has proven ineffective reads more like a screed from the National Education Association, not from a president whose education secretary is committed, as he said in December, “to empower parents and help them figure out what the best learning environment is for their child.”

The absolute characterization that the Opportunity Scholarship has failed to boost achievement and has targeted “a small number of individuals” contrasts illogically with the president’s embrace of charter schools, which are no more a scalable solution for all that afflicts public education than are vouchers. Additionally, the administration’s statement assumes that vouchers help the few while dooming the rest. The president isn’t naive; even if he won’t accept the evidence showing positive fiscal and academic imprints left by vouchers in D.C. and in other states, Obama surely can’t claim the Opportunity Scholarship hurts the children who remain in public schools. As the Washington Post today stated in its editorial written in response to the president’s opposition, the White House has a right to its opinion, but it “doesn’t have a right to make up facts.”

And so, we are assured further partisan division in Congress over an idea that has attracted more Democratic support in several states for the dignity it brings to low-income families. In today’s Indianapolis Star, Michelle Rhee told an interviewer that, as a Democrat, she first came to D.C. and responded to vouchers the way she thought Democrats were supposed to. Then, she said:

I actually changed my mind after I had met lots of families who by my perception were doing exactly the right thing. They researched their neighborhood school, found it was a failing school, said “that is not good enough for my child,” then they turned in an application for a dozen high-performing schools on the other side of town. They didn’t get a spot through the lottery. They would come to my office and say “now what do I do?” I thought, who am I to deny this family a $7,500 voucher so they could go to, say, a Catholic school where they would get a great education?

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit


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