- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

There is a striking consensus about public education in the nation’s capital: The school system generally fails the very children it is designedtoeducate.Spending, not funding, is a culprit. So are the lack of quality faculty and administrators. Safety and security are problems, too. And, when it comes to textbooks, facilities, equipment and other tangible resources tied directlytoeducational standards, suffice it to say that D.C. Public Schools are sorely lacking. As a result,poorschoolchildren are mortgaging their futures — and by default, those of their children.

Yet, taxpayer-financed vouchers,whichwould broadly open the doors to many an opportunity, continue to draw stiff opposition. The National Education Association, the largest of America’s unionofteachers,is adamantly opposed to vouchers — certainly annoyed by the fact that teachers at private and parochial schools can ill afford to set up children to fail year after with no repercussions. The National School Boards Association, the National Parent Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers, People for the American Way and many, many other special interest groups — all of which consider it their mission to uphold the status quo — also oppose publicly funded voucher programs.

What’s particularly galling about these groups is that they want you to believe that they are advocates for children. They want you to believe their lies, their hyperbole and their rhetoric — even the hypocrisy of it all.

Opponents claim that the legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill will not provide enough money for poor children to attend private schools. They lie. The federal legislation would provide scholarships of up to $7,500. That is more than enough money to cover private-school tuition in the District, where the median grade-school tuition is only $4,500. Moreover, there simply is no comparison to the cost of public tuition vs. private — at least not in dollar figures. D.C. Public Schools spent $10,107 per pupil in 1999-2000, while the national average was $6,911.MayorTony Williams, meanwhile, has increased school spending by nearly 38 percent, so funding was not the problem.

Opponents also lie about discrimination, claiming that religious schools would be permitted to discriminate. Well, many a non-Catholic family pays tuition or receives scholarships for their children to attend Catholic schools and you don’t hear too many of them complaining. But, for those critics who would bat that down as mere anecdotal evidence understand this: The Senate voucher legislation contains language that would prohibit private schools from religious discrimination involving students.

The hypocrisy of the anti-school choicers ought to be obvious by now.

GIs use education and housing vouchers.

People on fixed incomes use housing vouchers.

Indigent mothers use vouchers via the Women’s Infants and Children’s program, or WIC.

College students use vouchers for federal grants.

Welfare recipients use vouchers.

The District’s special education students use vouchers to attend schools — sometimes boarding schools — outside the city.

Families who have been flooded out or burned out of their homes use vouchers for emergency food, clothing and housing.

Heck, even drug addicts use vouchers for drug-treatment programs.

Why not vouchers for poor D.C. school children?

The vouchers would be used for children who, most often through absolutely no fault of their own, are forced to attend failing schools simply because their families cannot afford any other option.

But some organizations, like People for the (so-called) American Way, tell you lies and distort reality. They espouse equality, but withhold the truth.

They don’t tell you that one of the primary reasons that many urban school districts have high per-pupil expenditures and low test scores is because they want all schools to be equal. They want level playing fields. It is an impossible goal. Then they color their rhetoric with the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. They want you to think that poor little black or brown children could get a head start if we just feed them more hot grits in the morning and fresher endive salads in the afternoon. Never mind that middle-class and wealthy children might not eat grits. They want you to think that if urban school teachers were paid more that, somehow by osmosis, those salaries would also mean smarter poor children.

It is time that we call the anti-choice movement precisely what it is — and I wish (how I wish) that I could use these words in this newspaper. But I’ll settle for a prayer that Congress will do the right thing.

See, nearly three generations after the 1954 Brown desegregation ruling, poor children are still being shortchanged. Only this time, it is the people on the left who are holding them back.

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