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The Hill - Putting Kids Before Politics


Date: March 29, 2011
Issues: K-12 Education

Who should decide where a child goes to school? The government? A bureaucrat?

Most Americans believe that a child's parents should have that power. But unfortunately, in this country, not all parents do. Only those parents with financial means can really decide where they send their kids to school. Many underprivileged families are forced to send their kids to consistently failing public schools. In fact, many of these families live in the nation's capital. Washington D.C. is home to some of our country's most troubled public schools.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was created in 2004 to address this issue by providing low-income students with "expanded opportunities to attend higher performing schools in the District of Columbia." The program has proven remarkably successful.

Since its inception, the D.C. OSP has provided more than 3,300 District school children with the opportunity to attend higher performing schools. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute for Education Sciences, this program has produced 91percent graduation rates for D.C. OSP students -- the overall high school graduation rate in the District is less than 50 percent. It should come as no surprise that 74 percent of DC residents support the program -- after all they've seen the program's success firsthand.

Sadly, under pressure from special interest groups and teachers unions, the Obama Administration ended the program in 2009, despite overwhelming evidence of its success.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote to bring back the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. But many politicians, primarily Democrats, are expected to oppose re-authorization. The teachers unions are fighting vigorously to prevent low-income parents from being able to choose where to send their kids to school.

But why? Why are teachers unions and the education establishment fighting so hard against school choice?

Because if hard-working students are awarded scholarships and given real choice, currently failing public schools will have to work harder to find innovative ways to keep students in their schools.

Because low-income parents will do what is best for their kids and that means sending them to higher performing schools. 

Because teacher unions, which tend to be more concerned with protecting their own benefits than providing a quality education to our kids, know that they will start losing hundreds and thousands of the students currently trapped in bad schools.

And so, these very unions will spend millions of dollars to prevent students from escaping, and prevent parents from having the same choices and flexibility that the President and other Democrat politicians have.

I've spent most of my life working on advancing school choice and giving all parents in this country the power to decide where their children go to school. America's public school system will never improve until it is forced to compete to keep its students.

I'm tired of special interests denying parents this fundamental right. The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program gives parents this power and it works. This is a bill everyone should be able to support. It's not liberal or conservative -- as we've both sides of the aisle come together and support it -- it's about putting kids before politics.

The question each Member of Congress should ask themselves before they vote is whose side are you on? Are you with the parents who want to do what's best for their children? Or are you with the special interests who want to deny all parents that power?