- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2008

First, she called for the federal scholarship program to end; then, she said the only reason parents applied scholarships was because their children could not get into charter schools. Parents told Mrs. Norton that they did not like being talked about when they have not been talked to. Mrs. Norton agreed to meet with them.

On June 3, the parents met with Mrs. Norton - the same evening I got call after call from the parents who had attended the April 30. This was a group of parents who went to the meeting determined to voice their feelings about school choice, the Opportunity Scholarship Program and their desires for their children. The federally funded voucher program will end in the 2008-09 school year, unless Congress reauthorizes it. They were determined not to leave Mrs. Norton’s office without making her understand how they felt. After listening to Mrs. Norton go on and on about how they had been “mislead about the program,” each family was finally allowed to tell their success story. (One student, who attends Georgetown Day, spoke of what the program meant to her). But Mrs. Norton did not change her position.

Mrs. Norton still strongly suggested that parents begin to think about alternatives for their children. At that point, they adamantly expressed to her thattheir desire was for the program to continue and they were not prepared to think about what to do if the program ended. The intent of the meeting, they told her, was for their congressional representative - their only official member of Congress - to stand beside them and their children. Mrs. Norton said she was on their side, but because others were not, there was little she could do.

Mrs. Norton insisted on ending the meeting by taking pictures with the parents - as if they were very happy. The parents left highly frustrated with the turn of events - and rightly so - and highly motivated to continue the school-choice fight on behalf of their children.

I truly do not understand how our representative could look in the faces of families who have found joy in their children’s success and not support them. I have always considered our efforts in D.C. emblematic.

This controversy is raging in our nation’s capital, a fishbowl - the absolute best place to innovate and create new options in education. What we do here affects what happens all over the country. If you think about it that way, then you can conclude that Congress is responsible for what kind of image is presented to all American citizens. If Chancellor Michelle Rhee to improve the quality of education for all children, Mrs. Norton has dismissed parents’ pleas.

Over the course of the scholarship program, we have conducted hundreds of application meetings in the community (in partnership with the extraordinary work of the Washington Scholarship Fund). At each of these meetings, parents, who are desperate for educational alternatives for their children, spent hours talking to us about what the Opportunity Scholarship Program would mean to their family.

We have also spent countless hours in monthly Parent Empowerment Group meetings, which were sponsored by the Washington Scholarship Fund. We listened to story after story about children who began thriving after receiving a scholarship and enrolling in schools that met their needs. It has been uplifting and a privilege to spend time with the children and their parents.

I can only hope that Mrs. Norton takes time to really listen to parents like Sacred Heart School. We parents need a choice of schools that will meet our children’sneeds. This personal letterI share as a proud happy mom that will fight until the end.”

A member of the Ortiz-Reyes family said: “I have chosen to show my daughter that no one has the right to stop you from reaching your dreams. Please do not choose to discontinue the Opportunity Scholarship Program and pull the plug on our kids, the kids of this city, and the hopes and dreams that they have started to create. These kids have enough barriers … [P]utting yet another in front of them is a travesty.”

Jeanise Ealey also shared her thoughts: “The [Opportunity Scholarship Program] is providing a way for my daughter not to just have a private school education but to also be in a safe environment. We really need this scholarship program to be refunded by Congress so my daughter and the other OSP families can continue to have our children educated in schools of high academics and that are safe.” What parent does not want their child to be safely educated?

Mrs. Norton, how can you not hear the cries of your constituents?

Virginia Walden Ford is executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice.

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