- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2009

It is disgraceful the way Education Secretary Arne Duncan dodges and weaves while back-stabbing some 1,700 D.C. schoolchildren whose hopes and dreams are set on the District’s school voucher program. Taking a position of moral and political cowardice, the Obama administration refuses to intervene to save the hugely popular program from congressional Democrats determined to kill it. Mr. Duncan even refuses to address the District’s program except by indirection and obfuscation.

Studies of the six-year-old Opportunity Scholarship Program by Georgetown University, the Manhattan Institute and the Department of Education itself have found that vouchers foster tremendous parental satisfaction, impressive educational results and a greater degree of voluntary racial integration than in regular public schools in Washington.

At just $14 million annually for the $7,500 individual scholarships, the program is eminently affordable. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and former Mayors Anthony A. Williams and Marion Barry - all liberal Democrats - all wholeheartedly support the scholarships despite their other political differences.

Yet when Mr. Duncan is asked why the administration does not support the program, he repeatedly changes the subject to talk about broader educational policies. Our own editorial page staff member Kerry Picket asked him about it at a forum last Wednesday. Here’s what he said:

“At the end of the day the goal is about fixing the system, and I think we have to be more ambitious. As a country we like to save one or two children in a neighborhood and let the other 500 drown and then go home and sleep well at night. I think we have to be much more ambitious as a federal government, as a state government, as a local district. Our goal is to save every single child. This turn-around effort that we’re talking about does that. Now I can take you to schools in Chicago, I can take you to schools in Philadelphia, I can take you to schools in New York where the overwhelming majority of students were failing. And by turning those schools around, the overwhelming majority of students are succeeding - not pulling one or two out to save them, the entire community…”

Excuse us, Mr. Secretary, but how does it hurt efforts in Philadelphia and New York to keep a program alive in the District? And how does “saving” 1,700 children hamper efforts to save all of them? Mr. Duncan’s mumbo jumbo is thin cover for dancing to the tune of the teacher unions. As representatives of the National Education Association told Congress in March, “Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.” And no wonder: If parents have more control of their children’s education, the unions lose their own monopoly control. It is a control that apparently extends deep into the Education Department as well, and all the way to the top of the Obama administration.

President Obama’s team isn’t bringing any hope or change to our nation’s failing urban schools. In fact, this administration is squashing the only hope some families have for getting a decent education. As usual, liberal politics is trumping principle - and schoolchildren are the ones paying the price.