- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

Eleanor Holmes Norton is hoping to save nearly 2,000 city students from the dreaded federal voucher program that allows them to attend well-functioning private schools in a safe and nurturing environment.

Mrs. Norton vehemently opposes the voucher program because of its imposition on the District´s public schools, which, of course, perform at levels of bad and worse. Mrs. Norton and the like-minded in the Democrat-controlled Congress want to end the $18 million program because it works, is a big hit with the parents of disadvantaged students and provides low-income families with a choice.

Some of the testimonials of the parents can be watched at www.voicesofschoolchoice.org. Mrs. Norton believes in the recuperative power of the public school system, which is a note that has been sounded for the past two generations with disastrous results. The city´s public schools remain impervious to reform. The system churns out a contingent of functional illiterates who lack the skills to compete in a high-tech, information-based society.

The Democrat-entrenched city has demonstrated that money is not the answer. The city has one of the country´s highest per-pupil expenditures, nearly $15,000 a head, and some of the most dismal national test scores. Superintendents come and go, as do mayors and council members, and the city´s public school system lurches along on its dysfunctional path.

The concept of providing low-income families with a choice in learning institutions is hardly novel. Choice is an essential American quality, for choice pits one against the other in a competition of sorts. And competition spurs growth, advancements and efficiency that benefit consumers. Or should.

Alas, the city´s public school system is not in the business of competing. It sometimes is not in the business of equipping students with books on time. It is to the city´s everlasting embarrassment that it cannot even provide students with a safe environment.

Yet Mrs. Norton is adamant about returning the nearly 2,000 students to the public school system. She must know, on some level, that she is sentencing more than a few of those students to a life with fewer opportunities. It is no secret that all too many graduates of the system are ill-equipped to attend college. They need remedial courses and a pathological hunger to catch up with those who have been educated in the suburbs or in private institutions. They discover the hard truth of being let down by adults.

The Bush administration is often vilified as caring only about the wealthy. Yet its No Child Left Behind law reaches an element of society that is neither wealthy nor politically influential. The Democrats, the so-called champions of the little guy, want to eliminate the law while issuing their customary talk of reform.

Theirs is a political move that plays well with the teachers union. But political considerations aside, the parents of the children who earned the scholarships suggest the value of the voucher program is undeniable. And the majority of these parents do not fit the Republican voter profile.

Education ought to be a bipartisan issue because of what is always at stake, which is America´s future. The embarrassment that is the city´s public school system ought to motivate lawmakers to act forthrightly, free of political jealousies and biases.

But education has become just another point-making session for politicians, and the denizens of the city see the results with unmistakable clarity.

Their children are herded into impersonal buildings. Their children are harassed or threatened by mini-thugs. All too many of the teachers are just trying to survive, just trying to get through another trying day. That is the District´s dysfunctional public school system.

Mrs. Norton somehow believes in the system, no matter the incriminating evidence stacked against it. She probably would benefit from a meeting with the parents of the children, if she had an open mind.