- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

For Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the ABCs of sound education policy are accountability, budgeting and choice. "[D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous] and I have shoveled money into schools, and now it's time to see some return," Mr. Williams told The Washington Times last week. "I think you have to look at the schools in terms of more help, but you also have to put pressure on them to do better with their finances." We agree, and this is the year that D.C. schools must do exactly that.
The District is looking at a potential budget deficit of $134 million this year and $144 million in 2004. The mayor said he was pleased with the school system's ability to reduce $18 million in spending for students with special needs and put the money toward a rainy-day fund.
Mr. Williams also acknowledged that D.C. schools now spend as much per pupil as neighboring Prince George's County, and suggested the system is receiving resources which should be sufficient to improve student performance. "At some point, you have to ask how much money is more money?" he said. Indeed, a report from the Census Bureau showed that the District is spending almost as much on its public-school students as any of the nation's 50 states. In the 2001 school year, the District spent $10,852 per student, far exceeding the national average of $7,284. Yet, D.C. students continue to lag academically behind the national average in most areas of student achievement.
Mr. Williams supports charter schools, but D.C. officials publicly refuse to support scholarships, even as House and Senate committees consider federal funds for an experimental program in the District. The House bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican closely resembles legislation approved by Congress in 1997, but vetoed by then-President Clinton the following year. It would provide $7 million for fiscal 2004, $8 million for 2005 and $10 million each year for 2006-2008. The scholarships, ranging from $800 to $5,000 per student, would go to help poor families whose children have been failed by the D.C. public schools pay for tuition at the public or private school of their choice. We urge Congress and the administration to push forward Mr. Flake's legislation, which is patterned after school-choice programs that have shown promising results in other cities.
Mr. Williams and members of the D.C. Council are right to take the Board of Education to task for the poor performance of city schools. Now, it's time for them to take the next step. That means taking on the teachers unions and other special interests to ensure that scholarships for poor children in D.C. become an immediate reality.

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