- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Well, well, well.

President Obama finally has acknowledged that public schooling doesn’t necessarily mean placating unionized labor or trying to reinvent the status quo.

Approaching the tenable intersection of school choice and the business community, Mr. Obama essentially conceded in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night that public education also entails allowing the business sector to design educational programs that meet its needs for skilled workers.

Good for him, because a few hours after the president delivered the first blueprint for his second term, a Republican moved with all deliberate speed to open wider the doors of academic opportunities for poor and working-class families.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union, announced Wednesday morning that he has introduced federal legislation that would give tax credits to help “prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow.”

The bill, titled the Educational Opportunities Act, would, among other things, amend the federal tax code to allow taxpayers to receive credits of up to $4,500 to cover tuition and other education-related expenses for children attending nonpublic schools.

The Rubio measure, his first during the new congressional session, represents a new frontier in federal school reform and is geared specifically toward low-income families.

A broad swath of education advocates are cheering Mr. Rubio for taking such a “bold move” for indigent and minority families, regardless of their ZIP code, and they are urging bipartisan backing.

Sen. Rubio’s bill would move the country a long way toward leveling the playing field for Hispanic students and families,” said Julio Fuentes, president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options. “We know the achievement gaps for minority students have been too heartbreakingly wide for too long. We know the expansion of parental school choice is another tool we can thoughtfully use to narrow them. A federal tax credit scholarship program will give students around the nation more options to excel regardless of their ZIP code or their socioeconomic background.”

Rabbi David Zweibel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, said his organization applauded the senator “for his bold move to increase parental school choice options for low-income families nationwide” and encouraged “lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, to put a bipartisan stamp on the common-sense issue that is at the heart of this bill: the ability of parents to choose the learning environment that is the best fit for their child.”

Similarly, author and former D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, currently executive counsel for the American Federation for Children, pointed out that the Rubio legislation could inherently erase arbitrary school boundaries that keep too many urban children “trapped in traditional schools that do not work for them.”

“We are grateful that Sen. Rubio has introduced a bill to help children access a great education, regardless of their ZIP code,” he said.

Mr. Obama deserves applause for highlighting during his speech an innovative public school-private sector collaborative in Brooklyn, N.Y., called Pathways in Technology Early College High School, which gears up ninth-graders to earn high school diplomas and associate degrees in computers or engineering in six years.

“We need to give every American student opportunities like this,” the president said.

And he’s so right.

Problem is, trying to move public school bureaucracies out of their status-quo ruts is akin to trying to nudge a mule that has planted all four hooves in the mud.

Another take

BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee paid homage Feb. 11 to a handful of Americans who are do-gooders on various fronts.

The honoree who stood tallest of all was Lisa Leslie, and not just because she is 6 feet, 5 inches tall.

Zeroing in on education in general and school choice in particular in her acceptance speech, the former WNBA and Olympic star said: “Kids need equal opportunity and better education and it shouldn’t be because of their ZIP code that they’re not allowed to get the best education possible.”

Now that’s a slam dunk.

The wrong take

After announcing last month that more than a dozen D.C. Public Schools are slated to close at the end of this school year, Chancellor Kaya Henderson is now consulting on school boundaries.

It is “the thing I fear most,” she said.

Well, don’t be afraid, Madame Chancellor. Be fearless.

At the end of the day, desegregation, not integration, is the goal.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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