Commentary Magazine


Will Someone Ask Obama About Voucher Kids?

There are many disgraceful aspects to the $410 billion 0mnibus spending bill that is working its way to passage in Congress. But amid the many porky earmarks and boondoggles that are part of this travesty there is one provision worth singling out: the killing of the experimental school choice program that was giving 1,700 D.C. children a chance to get out of their failed public school system and attend a quality private or religious school. The Senate vote on Tuesday ensured that the program will be effectively killed after the 2009-10 fiscal year.

This was hardly a surprise, given that killing any plan that would give families vouchers to attend the school of their choice was a priority for the Democrats. President Obama has been a consistent opponent of school choice.

The arguments that choice would hurt public schools are a joke. Forcing failed public school systems to compete can only make them better. As for the loss of funds, Washington, D.C., like some other urban areas, already spends far more per student than other districts that give kids a better education. Other attempts to smear choice, such as claiming it will fund Farrakhan’s schools, are red herrings. State education standards about curricula can deal with that problem. The notion that such plans will undermine the separation of church and state is a canard. Public education means educating the public not slavishly supporting a government-run monopoly on education.Wherever voucher plans have been tried, the demand for them has been overwhelming as parents desperately try to give their children a better education than the one provided by the often terrible public schools in the area.

The hypocrisy of liberal Democrats, who claim to be acting on behalf of the poor and the underprivileged, spiking efforts that throw a lifeline to inner-city kids is appalling. But Obama’s hypocrisy is even more special. This happens to be a man who is sending his own two adorable children to a private school, not the awful D.C. public schools that he is trying to “protect” from voucher advocates. In fact, the Sidwell Friends School that his daughters attend has a number of recipients of the D.C. voucher plan. Though Obama says he wants the kids who are currently in the program not to be chucked out, he doesn’t want any voucher children to be there in the future. He wants to deny other kids whose parents are not as wealthy as Sasha and Malia’s parents the same chance for a decent education.

What does this say about the values of this man? Does Obama, and the many liberal religious groups (and I’m speaking specifically about liberal Jewish groups who have been in the forefront of opposition to school choice), not think that the inner-city minority children who benefit from vouchers are worthy of a chance for a decent future? Are they not created in the image of God, as are their own children? I know I’m not the first person to say this, but what I would like to see is a reporter put this question directly to President Obama at his next press conference.

And one more point about the Senate vote. Along with the majority of Democrats, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter cast his vote to kill the voucher plan. This is one more reason for Pennsylvania voters to question whether Specter deserves their support next year.