- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chairman Kwame R. Brown has said that the D.C. Council is no “rubber stamp” for Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

Well, now begins Mr. Brown’s chance to prove he isn’t playing Stan Laurel to the mayor’s Oliver Hardy.

First up is truancy reform, as lawmakers are scheduled to consider a bill Monday that enumerates the unconscionably high rates of truancy in D.C. schools and lays out a road map for pushing down the numbers.

If Mr. Brown, a Democrat, gets his colleagues to stiffen their spines, he would get them to ignore the excuses and zero in on making sure schools are held accountable.

After all, schools receive money whether the students show up or not.

Later this week, the focus will be on the District’s original school-voucher program.

There are two unique D.C. voucher programs: one signed into law by President Bill Clinton and one signed into law by President George W. Bush.

While the mayor spews venom on the latter, he is hush-mouthed about the former.

The former, called the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant, allows thousands of D.C. high school graduates to attend the public college or university of their choice by paying the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. The program is open to all students, which means wealthy families can draw from the till.

The latter, called the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, allows thousands of D.C. students to attend the school of their parents’ choosing, but only low-income children qualify for that money.

School-choice proponents rightly have given Mr. Brown hearty pats on the back for his support of both voucher programs, but he still must prove his mettle.

On Wednesday, lawmakers are scheduled to convene a hearing on the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, whose mission statement claims to enhance “educational services and opportunities to meet the lifelong learning needs of all District residents by ensuring equitable distribution and availability of administrative, financial and nutrition resources.”

Those resources include the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program (D.C. TAG).

Mr. Brown — and his whip, Mary M. Cheh, a Ward 3 Democrat — need to press the Gray administration because taxpayers want ward-by-ward numbers on D.C. TAG that detail everything from which states and schools get our money to high-school and college graduation rates.

And lawmakers shouldn’t let the state superintendent off the hook with the oft-used “We’ll get that information to you, Mr. Chairman.”

Tell Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley Johnson that the public expects to hear from her on the statistical breakdown at the hearing.

Mr. Gray, a Democrat, can continue to speak from both sides of his mouth on vouchers, but Mr. Brown will look like a hypocrite if the superintendent gets a free pass on vouchers.

Taxpayers have a right to know whether there is “equitable distribution” of D.C. TAG money.

And equity is at the center of redistricting, too.

Some stakeholders are whining that 2010 census data show that the nation’s capital isn’t as black as it used to be.

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

That’s a blessing, not a curse, since the true balance of power is tilted in favor of neighborhood civic activity, not ward boundaries.

So next week, the chairman must be mindful of tearing asunder the city in the name of racial balance.

Lawmakers aren’t going to redistrict themselves out of their own designated neighborhoods for the sake of minority voting strength.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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