- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

Two thousand D.C. students will soon escape the crumbling public school system and attend a school of their parents’ choice. Their freedom was won earlier this month with the passage of the Senate Omnibus bill that included $14 million for a D.C. voucher program. While the nation’s newest voucher program was met by cheers from local parents, it was also met with immediate condemnation by self-proclaimed child advocates, such as Sens. Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.

They claim rescuing some public school students will exacerbate problems for the students left in those schools. If that’s true for the 2,000 students who will participate in the new voucher program, then it must also be true for the 17,000 students whose parents have already purchased their escape from the always underperforming, often violent D.C. public school system. So why stop there?

Sens. Kennedy and Clinton should cease their tepid calls for rolling back choice programs. Instead, they should offer legislation to outlaw private schools and any other system that provides alternatives to government-run public schools. Isn’t that the logical conclusion of their arguments against expanding education choice for low-income families?

Sens. Kennedy and Clinton have yet to extend their logic that far. Currently, they are only willing to deny choice to low-income families who cannot afford private school on their own, but the senators have not attempted to squelch the right of parents to purchase their children’s escape from public schools.

Perhaps their reticence to eliminate all private schools is personal. After all, they can relate to the wealthy families that opt to pay pricey private school tuition. They are those families. Mr. Kennedy purchased a private education for his children. In 1997 — the same year President Clinton vetoed D.C.’s first voucher proposal — the Clintons were paying their final tuition for Chelsea to attend D.C.’s elite private school, Sidwell Friends. In the case of the Clintons and Kennedys, the public school system that is good enough for everyone else’s kids isn’t good enough for theirs.

These two champions of hypocrisy are not alone. In fact, the Heritage Foundation surveyed members of Congress and found 41 percent of representatives and 46 percent of senators had sent at least one of their children to private school.

Teachers’ unions lobby against legislation that helps parents afford alternatives to public schools, but then often turn around and send their kids to private school. A 1995 study by the Center for Education Reform indicated urban public school teachers were more than twice as likely as other urban residents to choose private school for their families.

It is impossible to reconcile these facts. Legislators who send their own children to private school while denying others this choice implicitly acknowledge the bankruptcy of the public schools but are unwilling to apply that knowledge to education policy, which would upend a status quo embraced by their key supporters.

Members of Congress and public school teachers unions should consider why they are unwilling to sentence their own children to the 12 years in public school that they prescribe to the rest of the country’s children. The simple answer is they appropriately want the best education and opportunities for their child. Their instincts are right: They just need to recognize that those instincts are not theirs alone, but tug at the heart of every parent in America, rich or poor.

Increasingly policymakers are taking steps to give more families school choice. Today, there are more than 2,700 charter schools educating nearly 700,000 students across America. Eleven states have embraced either scholarship voucher programs or tuition tax credits designed to help families afford private school. Fewer politicians seem comfortable explaining the logic of straddling this issue, with their rhetoric on one side and their own actions on the other. Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Robert Byrd and Joseph Lieberman, along with D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, all embraced the D.C. voucher initiative.

Now Mr. Kennedy and Mrs. Clinton face a choice of their own. They can keep trying to thwart efforts that would allow all families to choose their children’s school. Or they can try to put themselves in the shoes of the millions of Americans who, unlike them, can’t afford to provide the best education for their children. If they choose the later course, they may see school choice is actually a cause they’ve embraced all along.

CARRIE LUKAS

Director of policy Independent Women’s Forum


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