President Obama’s “compromise” solution for the de-funding of the school choice program for residents of the District of Columbia has rightly drawn fire from those who see this as a disgraceful way to treat children in need. The program allowed 1,716 students from low-income families in our nation’s capital to attend private and parochial schools instead of the failing public schools to which they would otherwise be condemned. The Democratic Congress with the approval of President Obama has cut off funding for the programming to the cheers of the teachers unions and other advocates of a government school monopoly.
But following through on this despicable betrayal of minority children did pose a problem for the president. The kids in question are almost all African-American and their families and churches are very unhappy that their children will be evicted from the private schools where they have been studying. Even worse, some of them are attending the Sidwell Friends School where Obama’s own daughters are students. The D.C. public schools are good enough for other black kids but not for the progeny of the president. No reporter has yet taken me up on the challenge that I posed a couple of months ago, here, when I wondered if anyone would have the guts to ask Obama about his refusal to offer other black kids the quality education he deems essential for his own children.
But rather than face the bad publicity for turning away his own children’s classmates, Obama wants to keep the students who are currently benefiting from the vouchers program in place while denying the program to future generations. By “grandfathering” in the current beneficiaries, Obama gets to play the philanthropist for the 1,716 children now in the program while still paying off his campaign debts to liberal interest groups.
But that’s not good enough for one such group: the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. For the political arm of Reform Judaism, any compromise on the issue that allows even a single poor student to attend a school that is otherwise reserved for their economic betters, is outrageous. According to James Besser in the New York Jewish Week:
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a strong opponent of voucher programs, was unhappy that the administration wants continued funding for those already in the DC program.
“Although we share the President’s determination to improve the education and well-being of our nation’s youth, we are disappointed by the extension of funding for the Washington D.C. private school vouchers pilot program,” said RAC associate director Mark Pelavin. “Vouchers detract from efforts to address underlying failures in our public school system and raise significant constitutional concerns about the spending of public tax dollars on sectarian education.”
What this does is put Pelavin, a representative of the largest synagogue movement in the country, figuratively at the schoolhouse door, much like George Wallace at the University of Alabama in 1962, attempting to stop poor African-American children from going to a school alongside other kids from more prosperous families, including that of the president of the United States.
This is exactly where extremism on the question of separation of religion and state can lead a movement that is otherwise dedicated to advancing the cause of racial equality in this country. Reform’s spokesmen have plunged into this controversy, placing their ideology above the well being of the most vulnerable members of our society.
I would again pose this question to the Religious Action Center and the many well-meaning Reform Jews who give their knee-jerk approval on this issue: Are the inner-city minority children who benefit from vouchers worthy of a chance for a decent future? Are they not created in the image of God, as are our own children?