- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Opponents of government-financed vouchers for D.C. schoolchildren no longer have any arguments. The Supreme Court has rejected legal complaints regarding the separation of church and state. Legislation approved in the House negates arguments that vouchers would skim the cream off the best crop of students in public schools and that school-choice programs lack accountability. The longstanding complaint that federally funded voucher programs would divert funds from public schools is moot as well, since the money for the D.C. program is new money. What’s amazing, though, is what you do not hear opponents complaining about: Rampant financial mismanagement and chronic overspending by D.C. Public Schools.

Opponents of vouchers on Capitol Hill — most notably D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sen. Ted Kennedy — know that D.C. school officials themselves made a startling announcement this spring: If they did not trim spending and cut personnel, DCPS would face a $65 million deficit by Sept. 30 — less than a month into the new school year. A substantial part of the overspending rested with personnel. Specifically, the analysis showed, DCPS had about 640 more employees than its budget could support. Visibly frustrated school board members immediately proposed short-term solutions, including cutting about 750 jobs, freezing raises and halting spending on non-personnel items.

Where would those cuts have the most negative effect? In the classrooms, since those non-personnel items included textbooks and supplies for classrooms and teachers. Also, school employees abused their credit-card privileges. School authorities also revealed this spring that they had six chief financial officers since July 2001. Specific cuts were announced yesterday, and the seventh and newest CFO was named just last week.

For years, the city’s top leaders have been aware of the mismanagement and overspending, and for years they made excuses. They even twice went so far as to revamp the governance structure of schools, but nothing changed.

There simply are no more excuses when it comes to opposing school choice. The financial bottom line constantly changes, but the academic bottom line remains unchanged — the longer a child stays in D.C. Public Schools, the worse off he becomes.

Mrs. Norton and Mr. Kennedy seem to find it in their liberal hearts to advocate civil rights and freedoms all the time. Yet, both lawmakers have vowed to do anything and everything possible to deny poor families the opportunity to send their children to non-public schools on the taxpayers’ dime. Both lawmakers insist that pouring more money into D.C. Public Schools will “fix the system.”

Like the other arguments, that one no longer holds any water. Indeed, despite the $65 million deficit this spring and the shortfalls in the previous three years, school authorities have yet to develop long-term fiscal or academic strategies. The only reasonable solution is to, at the very least, grant poor families the freedom to opt out.

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