- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

It was disappointing to parents and other advocates that the legislation providing vouchers for low-incomeD.C.youthswas pulled off the floor of the Senate earlier this week. After haughty Democrats left their ivory towers of liberalism and swaggered onto to floor of the Senate, Republicans leaders withdrew. The hope now is that the debate will be resurrected laterthis month, after a weeklong recess.

Wasting young minds and taxpayer money by opposing vouchers have been the particular businesss of two Democratic senators — Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts — and the city’s homegrown opponent of vouchers, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Their obstuctionism and hypocritical rhetoric has become so offensive, I find myself of late paying homage to the inventor of the TV remote control, since there is no other way to shut them up.

These and other Democrats would rather yak incessantly about their lies than take off their blinders — the bureaucrats running D.C. Public Schools are thieves of the worst sort. They create excuse upon excuse and amendment upon amendment. So much so, in fact, until Teddy Kennedy is beginning to sound more like the city’s nonvoting delegate than the delegate herself. “They [meaning Republicans] want to impose it [meaning vouchers] on the District, which doesn’t have a spokesman here on this issue,” the privileged Mr. Kennedy said the other day.

Making vouchers available to a limited number of low-income students is crucial, and for obvious reasons. Those reasons have been cited numerous times by parents, the city’s core elected leadership on the issue, as well as other advocates. Put simply: 1) The longer a child stays in D.C. Public Schools, the worse he perfomrs academically (if he doesn’t drop out in high school; 2) D.C. school authorities have not established or met clear goals, timetables and benchmarks for improving the academic lot of its 67,000 students; 3) the D.C. school budget continues to grow (fast approaching the $1 billion mark), while the number of students declines.

So, the thrust of the urgent push for Senate approval you just read. The politician whose comments of late best illustrate the urgency and negate voucher naysayers is Kevin Chavous. Mr. Chavous is a Democrat and a member of the D.C. Council, and chairman of the council’s Education, Libraries and Recreation Committee — so he is keenly aware of the good things and the bad things concerning D.C. youths. In a meeting the other day with editors and writers of this newspaper, Mr. Chavous said a few choice words that cut to the chase:

“For years, I believed that if we gave the schools enough money they would reform themselves internally. I now see that the school system will only reform under pressure from the outside and that is through school choice.”

Indeed, the city’s school system is simply scandalous — with more urban drama than NBC’s “Law and Order” and Fox’s “Boston Public” combined. Teachers use their own money to buy toilet paper for school restrooms. Frontpage headlines this week in The Washington Times revealed that millions of federal tax dollars were tied up in red tape and incompetence at school headquarters. Students don’t get textbooks on time. The D.C. teachers union is in the throes of a federal corruption probe. The superintendent’s chief spokeswoman couldn’t tell us whether the superintendent even has a contract. Taxpayers are paying the salaries for at least 640 “school employees” who don’t even work for the school system. What waste and corruption. School employees use their government-issued credit cards for purposes unrelated to education and fail to keep sufficient records. It has gotten so bad, Mr. Chavous said, until, unlike mostly everyone else who vacations away from Washington in August, he has to stick around to handle the school system’s scandal du mois.

That is not the way to run a public school system. The school-choice proponents know it, but the school-choice opponents won’t admit it.

Instead of Mrs. Norton and her chums-in-obstruction sauntering about Capitol Hill trying the beat back vouchers, they ought to take their blinders off and drop in on school headquarters. There, they would see with their own eyes the conspirators who discover new ways to waste young minds and your tax dollars.

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