- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

As a mother of three who has spent more than a decade working alongside thousands of parents to improve education for children in the Dis- trict of Columbia, I can’t help but cringe when the president tells moms and dads they need to fight for better schools and be more responsible.

“Responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but it begins in our homes,” said President Obama during a speech last week. “It begins with parents. … But that’s not where the responsibility ends. All of us have a responsibility, not just as parents, but as citizens, for giving our kids the best possible education.”

Regrettably, the president’s rallying cry doesn’t match the reality of his own public policy right here in Washington.

Thousands of parents in the District have fought responsibly and tirelessly to create, promote, and now restore and extend the highly effective D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which provides scholarships to low-income children to attend a private school of their parents’ choice. But now, this program is on life support - not because parents aren’t being “responsible” - but because Mr. Obama hasn’t listened to our repeated pleas or looked at the data from his own Department of Education, which proves the program works.

The OSP has allowed low-income families, frustrated with failing and often unsafe D.C. public schools, to seek new and better options, while simultaneously fostering increased parental involvement in their children’s education. Here in the District, parents can’t wait on rhetoric that isn’t translated into policy. Parents already have chosen the Opportunity Scholarship Program because it gives parents a choice and their children hope. It’s a sterling example of parents taking responsibility, but it goes unnoticed by the Obama administration.

In the same speech, Mr. Obama said that education reform must focus on finding and implementing “solutions that work.”

Again, nice rhetoric, but it ignores reality here in the District. When you ignore a program that has more than 3,300 success stories and a 91 percent graduation rate for children who used their scholarships - more than 30 percentage points higher than children in conventional D.C. public schools - how can you not hold the program up as a national example of funding what works in education?

And again in his speech, the president issued a call for bipartisanship. He spoke of Republicans and Democrats working together to improve No Child Left Behind and praised local and state governments for taking steps toward education reform locally.

Yet the president has so far rejected bipartisanship outreach on the Opportunity Scholarship Program, where leaders of both parties have signed on to the SOAR Act, which would reauthorize the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The legislation is sponsored in the House by Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and co-sponsored by Rep. Daniel Lipinski, Illinois Democrat, among others. In the Senate, it is sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent; Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican; Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat; and Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.

The OSP is also extremely popular among residents of the District, 90 percent of whom are Democrats. A February 2011 poll revealed that 74 percent of D.C. residents support reauthorization. In addition, nearly 9,000 families have applied to participate in the program and 8,000 signed a petition calling for reauthorization. The program also enjoys strong support on the D.C. Council.

If the president is serious about what he said, he should support the OSP. If he’s serious about funding what works in education, he should support the OSP. And if the president wants to move beyond rhetoric and turn his vision of effective education programs - supported by parents and embraced by both parties - into reality, he will support the OSP. It’s not too late.

But regardless of what the president decides, we’ll keep fighting to give children from low-income families in Washington immediate access to a good education - just as responsible parents do.

Virginia Walden Ford is the executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice.