- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A letter sent to the White House on Wednesday was appropriately circumspect, but in effect, it boiled down to this: “Dear Mr. President, when it comes to educating America’s children, please, just this once, live up to your own words.”

The subject was the popular and successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The letter writers were Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader.

The president touched on education during his State of the Union address last week. “The idea here is simple: Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success,” he said. “Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform. … In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.”

Mr. Obama’s words sound nice, but in public education today, the reality is that most children are assigned a school based on where they live. Most families don’t have the opportunity to choose their children’s schools. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarships - which are funded by Congress - change all that without taking a dime from the public school system by helping children (more than 3,000 so far) attend non-public schools that are safer and more effective.

Mr. Boehner and Mr. Lieberman say the program works and that young lives will be lost if educational opportunity is sacrificed for political expedience. “According to Patrick Wolf, the principal investigator for the study conducted under the auspices of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, this program has met a tough standard for efficacy,” the lawmakers wrote. “Dr. Wolf found that ‘the D.C. voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the federal government’s official education research arm so far.’ ” Based on Mr. Obama’s own words about investing in reform and rewarding success, Mr. Boehner and Mr. Lieberman argue that D.C. Opportunity Scholarships should not only be reauthorized but expanded to serve additional students.

The program is wildly popular in the District, including among Democrats who are strong supporters of Mr. Obama. According to the letter, the scholarships enjoy “the overwhelming support of D.C. residents, parents, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, [D.C. Public Schools] Chancellor [Michelle] Rhee, former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and a majority of the D.C. City Council.”

Instead of listening to those closest to D.C. students and their challenges, the Obama administration has backed plans to pull the plug on the scholarship program. This is transparent pandering to school workers unions that don’t want the competition provided by such scholarships.

While Mr. Obama sends his daughters Sasha and Malia to private school, he ignores heartfelt pleas from parents and children to allow more youngsters a chance for a quality education. The scholarship program is an unambiguous test of whether or not this president means what he says. If he allows the program to die, the hopes of many D.C. children will die with it.