- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

In his rescheduled State of the District address, Mayor Tony Williams discussed the highs and lows of the nation’s capital, stating that the District is “stronger than ever.” Indeed, the city is fiscally stronger than it was a decade ago. “U Street is back, our pride is back, Joe Gibbs is back, and … our city is back,” the mayor said. But it was a question he asked a few minutes later that essentially sums up a troubling state of affairs. “What in the world is happening to our children?” His was a speech of reckoning.

The mayor postponed his speech, which was scheduled for Feb. 3, so that he and other city leaders could attend a community meeting following the fatal shooting inside a high school — a meeting that was long on hisses and boos and short on solutions. But that was Tuesday night. By Thursday night, the mayor had emerged from the emotional showdown with several policy solutions. The mayor, for example, promised to strenghthen school-choice programs, faith-based initiatives and literacy programs for youths and adults.

We applaud the mayor, since those are the very programs that offer hope to families struggling with joblessness and cycles of violence. The question now is how does the mayor turn those policy promises into effective programs. The mayor said, “Let’s be honest, the mayor, the [D.C.] Council, the Board of Education, DCPS, the CFO and the superintendent don’t work well together under the current system … We have overlapping agendas, a confusing structure, no clear accountability … the buck stops nowhere.”

Lots of city leaders have spoken similar sentiments behind closed doors, but the mayor had the political will to say them in public. Now that he has, who will stand alongside him to lead the school system out of political bondage? Will voters continue to allow unions and the largely ineffective school board dictate failure? Will advocates of school choice lead the hard charge? Will the D.C. Council push for laws that give it greater say over what surely will become the school system’s largest asset — its budget?

To be sure, the distractions this year will be many, including presidential, council and school board elections, cries for more social-service entitlements and diversion programs, and voting rights. As the mayor said, the city is “stronger than ever,” yet we’re still “losing” our children. The mayor seemingly has the will to continue moving the city forward, and the council and other city leaders must now work with him or at least not stand in his way.

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