- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2011


You should have seen them on Saturday.

While D.C. parents and school-choice proponents were filing into the Renaissance Hotel at Ninth Street and New York Avenue Northwest, D.C. officials were several blocks away at the White House raising Cain about voting rights.

Our city leadership was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Every stick that measures the city’s public schools - academic, graduation, dropout, truancy and unemployment rates - says voting-rights activists have misguided priorities.

Parents at the Renaissance event, held by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. (CYITC) and supported by volunteers with the Black Alliance for Educational Options, were availing themselves of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a reconstituted federal program for low-income families.

At the same time, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Vincent C. Gray, both anti-voucher stalwarts, joined other activists under the midday sun bashing President Obama, Republicans and conservatives on Saturday and barking about people choosing life instead of using tax dollars to fund abortions.

Well, parents want choices, too.

“It’s a matter of priorities and realities, particularly among African-Americans and Latinos whose public schools lack resources,” said April Goggans, whose daughter, Jade, will attend a charter school in Northwest Washington. “We don’t qualify for a voucher, but I volunteered to support the voucher program because our kids are chained to poor-performing public schools and parents want options.”

The president and Congress reinstated the scholarship program this spring as part of the federal government’s three-sector approach to public schooling that also appropriates new dollars to traditional and charter schools in the District.

Such an approach is being considered by dozens of states as 2011 seemingly becomes the year of school choice.

Forty-two states are considering legislation that would either establish or expand tax-credit and voucher programs, including 27 measures that would benefit children with special needs.

Like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, many of the states’ measures also call for stronger accountability and expanded eligibility.

While the D.C. program broadens the reach of vouchers to siblings and schools designated as in need of improvement, Ohio is considering expanding its voucher program to 60,000 students by 2013 and the successful Milwaukee program would expand to Racine, Wis.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s first-in-the-nation education-savings measure would allow families to use 90 percent of their per-pupil money on online and college schooling, textbooks and other options.

But know what?

The D.C. anti-voucher folks would have you believe that residents voted down a D.C. voucher plan in 1981, when, in fact, they did no such thing.

What voters rejected was a tuition-tax credit.

Congress and the White House have seen fit to reward long-struggling D.C. families with more than 1,000 vouchers, which is in line with other government “vouchers” - for housing and food programs, and to the military, to name a few. D.C. college students also get an out-of-state tuition voucher - a pet project of Mrs. Norton, who tries to silence the beat of the pro-school-choice movement with the constant beat of the pro-abortion and voting-rights drums.

The hugely popular and highly successful voucher program already has drawn more than 600 applicants, and CYITC will begin sending out more than 25,000 mailings Monday.

That popularity alone proves that Mrs. Norton and Mr. Gray are misreading their constituents. The fact that 42 states are weighing new and expanded school-choice bills also speaks volumes about the public-school-only groupies.

Moreover, a federal study makes fools of opponents.

As CYITC, administrators of the voucher program, pointed out, “Parents who utilize scholarships to send their children to private schools are overwhelmingly satisfied with their choices - and children who utilize their scholarships graduate at a rate of 91 percent.”

D.C. Public Schools’ overall graduation rate is only 43 percent and its state ranking is 51st.

Surely the mayor doesn’t think voting rights will change those embarrassing numbers.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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