- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program (vouchers) will likely expire next year. Congressional Democrats don’t want to extend it and the District’s politicians aren’t sure.

District residents can only hope, especially the 2,000 voucher-assisted parents whose children are enrolled in private schools, that their leaders will have the courage to tell them why.

Why are they taking away their ability to choose where their children go to school? Why should a free and democratic society maintain an autocratic and at times despotic education system? Why is the cash-strapped nation’s capital going to give away $18 million to help students learn? But more importantly, why are we getting rid a of a program before it has a real chance to work?

Vouchers have been around for four years, but it seems logical that for an education program to be fully vetted, it must last as long as a child’s education in the system would - 12 years.

The answer to all of these questions has to be better and more thorough than “they jeopardize public schools.” The only thing putting public schools in jeopardy is inadequate leadership, rigid one-size-fits-all approaches to education.

What is typical of politicians - ego - is getting in the way. It takes a strong ego to run as the best person to lead. It brings out the best and worst in them. The worst is that no politician has ever heard an idea as good as his or her own.

For elected Democrats, school choice was not their idea, thus it can’t be any good. It is no wonder why former D.C. mayor Anthony A. Williams, whose chief criticism was not being a real politician, supported vouchers. But Mr. Williams is gone. Gone too is the alliance of elected Democrats tired of electoral politics who saw a new idea that might work - still may work - and pushed it forward.

All sorts of ideas have been bandied about and enacted and haven’t helped the public schools get any better.

At least Mayor Adrian Fenty is allocating the money to repair the system’s infrastructure. But it remains to be seen whether his chancellor - even the titles are dictatorial - will open the system up to innovative teaching techniques.

There are questions from local officials as to whether the line between church and state is blurring because most of the private schools involved are religious.

That is a regional question for the local officials to determine. But should shouldn’t parents be allowed to make religious choices for their children?

Two thousand already have.

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