- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's congressional representative, has marked a line in the sand. Not in the Middle East, mind you, homeland of terror masterminds, but on her home turf here in Washington. Mrs. Norton is ready to do battle with Jeff Flake, who this week introduced legislation that would give scholarships to poor children. Of course, Mrs. Norton doesn't call them scholarships. She and her kind call them vouchers.
Mr. Flake "should learn that D.C. is an independent jurisdiction…and Congress has no more right to interfere with District education than they do with any other jurisdiction," Mrs. Norton said the other day. Charter schools are flourishing in the city, she said, and that's enough choice for poor folks. "But if [Jeff Flake] wants a fight," Mrs. Norton said, "he will get one, a big one."
A phrase-by-phrase dissection of Mrs. Norton's comments is certainly tempting. After all, it's not Congress that "interferes" with D.C. affairs, but the U.S. Constitution, which bestows exclusive prerogatives upon Mr. Flake, Mrs. Norton and other members of Congress.
But enough on semantics. Let's attend to the visuals.
Can you see Mrs. Norton? Hands on hips, drawing the demarcation on the carpeting in the comfort of her Capitol Hill office?
Looking out the window and down upon children whose parents can't afford, as she did, to send their children to Georgetown Day? Or to a far-less expensive parochial school?
Can you imagine her joining forces with Teddy "Silver Spoon" Kennedy, whose parents could afford the best?
See her marching the halls of Congress with her sisters and brothers in the Congressional Black Caucus nearly 50 percent of who didn't choose public schools for their own children?
Hmm. There are lots of things wrong with those pictures, aren't there?
Besides being political hypocrites, Mrs. Norton, Sen. Kennedy, the black caucus and many others who profess opposition to true choice are silver-tongued pawns of the National Education Association, which funnels so much money to Democrats that they can't afford to speak out on behalf of children and parents. So, they, in turn, use low-income parents and children as their own pawns.
Their rhetorical protestations are famously familiar: "Full funding for public schools"; "End disparities in teacher pay now"; "Teachers need more training opportunities"; "Down with testing"; "Children first." And their political cover is the unanticipated growth in charter schools, which are tethered to public school systems but not encumbered by the usual red tape.
Their main argument in their fight against government-funded scholarships was struck down last year by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Cleveland government-sponsored voucher program was "neutral in all respects toward religion." Now that the justices have settled the church-state question, however, and President Bush and Mr. Flake have legislative proposals on the table the president's nationwide and Mr. Flake's targeted on the District they have renewed their battle cry. But it is a fight that must be fought on behalf of children trapped in poor-performing schools.
It's hardly a surprise to school-choice proponents that opponents have resurrected their argument that scholarships won't sufficiently cover the costs of tuition. Well, they are flat-out wrong. Moreover, Mr. Flake's bill doesn't steal money from one educational pot to pay for another; it's all new money.
The Flake proposal would create the D.C. Scholarship Corp., which would receive $7 million next fiscal year, $8 million in 2005 and $10 million through 2007. Children living in poverty, even those children of the working poor, would be eligible to receive scholarships ranging from $3,750 to $5,000.
Do you know what that would allow parents to do? Perhaps send their son or daughter to a Catholic school:
Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Anacostia, a pocket of poverty, where tuition is $3,100.
Nativity Catholic Academy in Petworth, another poverty-stricken area, where tuition is $3,245.
Immaculate Conception School the Shaw area, where pockets of poverty mark this up-and-coming neighborhood and where tuition is only $2,750.
Or maybe somewhere very familiar to the District's Catholic mayor, St. Augustine, whose school tuition is $3,100.
Interestingly, Mrs. Norton and others don't complain about giving military personnel government-funded vouchers to go to the school of their choice, or giving high-school grads government-funded vouchers to go to the college of their choice. Secular or not.
How dare she deprive other parents of the very right she herself has exercised, simply because those other parents are poor.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide