Three brothers living in the Woodridge area of Northeast are depending on the White House and Congress to do right by all young people.
Their names are Robert, an 11th-grader at Perry Street Prep Public Charter School; Zarrick, a ninth-grader at Archbishop Carroll High School; and Zuri, the youngest of the Franklin boys, and a fourth-grader at St. Anthony’s Catholic School and guest of House Speaker John A. Boehner at President Obama’s State of the Union Address in February.
They are living examples of academic success, but the White House and Justice Department are throwing cold water on their hopes.
Addressing 2011 complaints about school vouchers in Wisconsin, the U.S. Justice Department said last week that the program cannot discriminate against children with disabilities.
“The state cannot, by delegating the education function to private voucher schools, place students beyond the reach of the federal laws that require Wisconsin to eliminate disability discrimination in its administration of public programs,” Justice said in a letter to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.
The letter comes at an opportune time for the Obama administration as it joins unions to push back access to tax-funded scholarships and other school-choice options, and seemingly adopts the position that some states are attempting to privatize public education.
Asked if she had any words of encouragement about the popular program she would tell the president, the boys’ mother, Tara Franklin, said: “These scholarships give kids the opportunity for a better life and a better education. It’s a gateway to go get what you want to get. D.C. Public Schools sets young men up to fail.”
And, I might add, girls, as well.
See, it’s not the Franklins’ neighborhood school, John Burroughs Education Campus, a traditional school in Northeast, was a bad school. It’s that the scholarship program empowered Ms. Franklin to open new doors for her boys.
She knew Zuri, who left Burroughs after the second grade, would do better in a challenging learning environment.
“I loved Burroughs,” Ms. Franklin said.
“Zuri wasn’t really learning” in the D.C. Public School system, said Ms. Franklin, a stay-at-home mom to Robert, 16, Zarrick, 14, and 10-year-old Zuri. “He needed to be challenged because he was way ahead of the other kids.”
And there was something else that gnawed at her.
“They were doing a lot of [budget] cuts in DCPS,” she said. “Zuri began taking Spanish in the first grade and then [they] cut it out. They cut music and drama. My other son had taken French. It’s been great at St. Anthony’s. Zuri has a tough teacher. All my sons are doing better.”
With charters and private schools being a better academic fit for many children, Ms. Franklin also spoke proudly of the honor-roll achievements of her sons and their extracurricular accomplishments.
“Zuri plays trombone, and they all are always busy, playing basketball, football and baseball,” she said, adding that they “keep me busy with their activities, and I’m a parent volunteer.”
“I push them to do the best they can, so they can get those college scholarships,” she said.
All Ms. Franklin and her sons are hoping for are scholarships to help broaden their academic opportunities.
Mr. Obama is delivering on such opportunities to veterans and immigrants, and accepted accolades Friday from Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla, who praised U.S. programs for her fellow Costa Ricans.
Families wanting government scholarships deserve no less.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.