Commentary Magazine


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Helping The Neighborhood

President Obama told the people of Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day: “We are neighborhood people and I cut my teeth doing neighborhood work.” Such assertion will be put to the test rather quickly. His new hometown paper explains:

Early surveys of D.C. parents of children receiving federal school vouchers showed many of them liked the program because they believed their children were in safe schools. Over time, a new study shows, their satisfaction has deepened to include an appreciation for small class sizes, rich curricula and positive change in their sons and daughters. Above all, what parents most value is the freedom to choose where their children go to school

.   .    .

Whether they continue to have such a choice could be determined soon. The program that provides scholarships of up to $7,500 per year for low-income students to attend private schools is funded only through the 2009-10 school year. Unusually restrictive language being drafted for the omnibus budget bill would forbid any new funding unless Congress reauthorizes the program and the District passes legislation in agreement. Yet results of the Education Department’s scientific study of the program are not expected until June.

The editors implore him to lend a helping hand:

We hope that, despite his stated reservations about vouchers, President Obama includes money in his upcoming budget to safeguard the interests of children in this important local program and to preserve an unusually rigorous research study. Mr. Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, say they eschew ideology in favor of what serves the interests of children. Here’s a chance to help 1,716 of them.

There is no credible excuse to do otherwise. The D.C. schools are in shambles, the federal “stimulus” plan is to filled with far more expensive and less worthy items than this, and parents from poor and minority families like the program. This is an easy call, a small chance to flash his reformer credentials and to show he is not captive to the Teachers’ Union. After all, if he can’t help the kids in his own neighborhood get a decent education how is he going to go up against opponents of school reform in far-away places where he holds far less influence?