- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2013


Haste makes waste, you know.

Lots of folks are mighty anxious to end the federal government shutdown. From immigrants pushing a reform agenda and smaller government types seeking spending curbs to President Obama bunkered in for a fight with Republicans to veterans sidling up to closed memorials built in their honor, the voices for special interests have been loud and strong.

Shout-outs on behalf of children, not so much.

Youngsters are caught in political crossfire.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray moved as quick as stealthy lightning to announce the Wednesday before the shutdown became a reality that he had declared all 33,000 or so D.C. employees “essential” and that he would use the city’s contingency fund to pay them.

It was an unprecedented move by a D.C. mayor to make such a hasty move, the blessings of federal overseers and D.C. lawmakers notwithstanding. And now the reserve coffers are drying up.

He then said that, since public works employees were getting paid, they might as well do the federal government workers a favor, too, by having their D.C. counterparts pick up trash at federal parks.

Suffice it to say, D.C. is probably doing Yogi Bear’s nemesis, Ranger Smith, a big favor.

Mr. Gray’s passive-aggressive politics also had him confronting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with a Democratic head-butt on Wednesday. The senator from Nevada told the mayor, “I’m on your side. Don’t screw it up.”

The move must have knocked some sense into the mayor, because on Thursday evening he finally got around to mentioning that children are caught in the crossfire of the shutdown.

Public charter schools might close, and thousands of children who receive vouchers might be at risk as well.

The shutdown threatens to close the schoolhouse on nearly 35,000 students in charter schools if the city fails to pay the charters their allotment, Donald Hense, founder and chairman of Friendship Public Charter Schools, told me.

The looming deadline is particularly risky for new startups and small charters that do not have substantial cash reserves, he said.

“We’re reasonably safe now,” he said of Friendship and other large, established charters. “But if they stay on this shutdown long, almost everybody else will be closed.”

D.C. payments to charters, which educate 43 percent of school-age children, are due Wednesday.

Mr. Hense also highlighted two things that, I think, our leaders are ignoring.

“It’s illegal to have people come to work and to knowingly be aware you are not able to pay them,” he said.

And if a charter has a bond for building and renovations but insufficient cash on hand to pay, “its credit rating could be in trouble.”

Thousands of other D.C. youngsters are also caught in the crossfire.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is federally funded, is at risk, too.

That’s because no fiscal 2014 federal or D.C. spending plan also means no appropriated funds for the vouchers, which are given to poor families.

The mayor said it’s “unconscionable” that the nation’s capital is treated like a federal agency by Congress and the White House.

What’s truly unconscionable is that the mayor placed trash and garbage in the front of the line for limited expenditures.

In city hall’s haste to prove a point about the lack of D.C. budget autonomy, it wasted precious dollars — and political capital.

So much for leadership during a time of crisis.

Protect the children from the political crossfire.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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