- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

Who wants vouchers? Vouchers do nothing for most children; they divert dollars from public schools; they have not improved student achievement; they eliminate public accountability; they set up an unjust system and they divert attention from real education needs. Or so say voucher opponents with the D.C.-based Coalition for Accountable Public Schools, rattling off talking points from their footnoted lobbying leaflets. It’s not a majority of D.C. residents who favor vouchers, but rather a few pandering politicians, judging from criticism and comments of the dozens of members of CAPS who fanned out into the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday, armed with clipboards and literature. They lobbied Congress all afternoon to vote against this divisive and dubious program as it marks up the D.C. appropriation bills this week. “The District schools have suffered cutbacks, and vouchers are an inadequate coupon,” said the Rev. Romal Tune, an assistant pastor at the 19th Street Baptist Church. He echoed the sentiment that when D.C. schools have a $40 million deficit and teachers had not received negotiated pay raises, it is not the time to divert public dollars to a voucher program. The packed room of faith leaders and community activists saved their most biting criticism for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous and D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. “Our local leadership hasn’t listened to us or even consulted with us,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Haggray of the D.C. Baptist Convention and the father of two D.C. school students. “Vouchers will cost the D.C. Public Schools another $25 million in lost per-pupil federal and local funding at a time when our children can least afford it.” The unholy alliance of Mr. Williams, Mr. Chavous and Mrs. Cafritz — who usually can’t stomach being in the same room with each other for more than five minutes — speaks less about their switched support for a $10 million federally funded voucher amendment attached to the city’s fiscal 2004 budget appropriation. Rather, it is a pathetic public admission that they have individually and collectively failed to do their jobs as public servants elected and sworn to provide the best public services for their constituents. This is political pandering at its worst. The trio is gambling with the majority of D.C. students by trying to convince themselves and skeptics that Congress will uncharacteristically come up with more money for public and charter schools as a pat on the head for going along with this political experiment. For shame. While the Senate has included additional funds to go along with vouchers in its proposal, the House is considering a vouchers-only measure. For shame on Sen. Dianne Feinstein, too. The California Democrat came out in support of vouchers for D.C. schoolchildren this week, but will have no such thing in her home state. In fact, CAPS members pointed out that last year Congress voted down (273-155) vouchers for the nation when it passed the No Child Left Behind Act. Not to worry, D.C. residents have the majority of the D.C. Council and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton — who exposes the voucher vise for the ideological smoke screen that it is — to watch their backs. CAPS coalition members note that D.C. residents voted against tuition tax credits for private schools by a 9-to-1 margin when Congress tried to impose them in 1981. As recently as 2002, a Zogby International poll found 76 percent of D.C. voters oppose vouchers if it means less public money for public schools. Raymond S. Blanks, a D.C. parent, bluntly stated that if parents want private-school education for their children, they should pay for it — but not with dwindling taxpayer dollars. A career educator, he also voiced concern about the ability of private and parochial schools to adequately teach children from all backgrounds or with problems. The voucher measure “is not based on public-policy analysis, that’s why I’m insulted. We need to start talking facts,” he said. He advises parents to do their own research because “this is an initiative that puts a lot of stock in private education” with a for-profit motive. Pay close attention to who actually sponsors those policy advertisement using Mr. Williams as the political poster boy for vouchers. Millions of private dollars are being spent to push an “education reform” agenda that sends our society down the slippery slope of privatizing education and resegregating our schools. “This is not a program of justice. This is a program of injustice,” Mr. Blanks said. The D.C. voucher or so-called “scholarship” program will offer up to $7,500 for an estimated 2,000 students to attend a private or parochial school of their “choice” for three years. The children would be chosen from a lottery of those whose family income does not exceed $20,000 for a family of three. But the private schools must admit them first. Now let’s get real. Where are these children going to school with $7,500? Certainly not to the exclusive enclaves such as Sidwell Friends and St. Albans, to which so many covet entry but which they cannot afford. One of my friends just paid $21,000 in tuition alone to enroll her son in the eighth grade at Georgetown Day School in upper Northwest. High school spots cost even more. She said that does not include extras or the donations and fund-raising activities parents are required to do. Mr. Haggray suggested that D.C. parents “already have school choice” in the form of open enrollment, charter schools and the superintendent’s 15 transformation schools. Private-school vouchers using public dollars just don’t bring the bang for the buck. What happens to the 66,000 D.C. students left behind? What happens to the voucher holders after their time runs out? Who will monitor the academic performance of students in private schools that do not have to follow federal or local academic standards? These are the critical questions that Mr. Haggray and his compatriots in CAPS, who speak for the majority of D.C. residents, rightfully raised.

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