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Obama losing balance on D.C. voucher tightrope

Posted by May 7th, 2009.

Although in most areas I disagree with the Obama agenda, I have held out real hopes for some kind of a positive breakthrough in education reform. His embrace of charter schools, merit pay, and the like have put him at odds with the National Education Association. But the President is not yet ready to press the battle very far.

A few months back his fellow Democrat leaders in Congress came out charging, ready to follow NEA’s bidding and take the ax to the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (“an ongoing threat to public education in the District of Columbia”, says NEA president Dennis Van Roekel … Seriously? I would say the biggest threat to public education in D.C. is the heavily subsidized, failing system itself).

Ever since, it’s been clear Obama and Arne Duncan have wanted the voucher issue to go away — obscuring the release and downplaying the positive results in a recent study — but I believe it’s a lot less clear that the issue actually will.

Next came the Department of Education’s insulting, less-than-honest letter (PDF) to D.C. voucher parents. Now the administration appears to be making amends by saying that no new students will be funded but all current students will be funded through graduation.

But that’s an illogical attempt to split the baby (and we know how that usually turns out for the baby). Attending yesterday’s school choice rally sponsored by D.C. Children First, Dan Lips from the Heritage Foundation keenly observes:

If the purpose is to “fund what works,” why shouldn’t more kids be given the opportunity to participate in a program that has proven to improve the reading achievement of disadvantaged kids? To paraphrase Virginia Walden Ford of D.C. Parents for School Choice at today’s rally, we shouldn’t be satisfied until all families — regardless of background — can choose a quality school for their children.

The Washington Post agrees:

If indeed this program is shown to work to the benefit of children, it should be continued. And, not — we submit — just for the ones who are lucky enough to be in it now.

More than 1,300 people attended the “Put Kids First” rally, and the kids spoke loud and clear. (For more flavor of the event, check out the videos posted here.)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: “Private education tax credits and public education reform shouldn’t be an either/or choice.”

No matter how much the Obama administration may see the D.C. vouchers as a distracting issue that ought to go away, and as much as they might believe their compromise proposal will quell dissent, they will find themselves frustrated on their dangerous tightrope walk. What remains to be seen is how far the emerging group Democrats for Education Reform will go to help nudge the executive branch toward embracing choice and away from the NEA’s antagonistic death-grip.

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One Response to “Obama losing balance on D.C. voucher tightrope”

  1. [...] President Obama, Mr. Carey seems to want this issue to just go away. It’s hard to understand why the fact that vouchers aren’t going away can be so [...]

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