American Thinker | by Aaron Gee | Dec. 21, 2009
The Democrats have consistently cultivated a public image as the party of the little guy, the party that stands up against big interests and protects the rights of minorities. You would think that a program that helps minority students, lowers costs, and increases funds for public schools would be right up their alley. You would be wrong.
The Democrats in Congress have essentially killed Washington D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program effectively throwing nearly 2,000 disadvantaged students back into one of the worst school systems in the country. The very popular program had a long waiting list and has strong support in the community is now being de-funded. The fact that the program had a record of academic and financial success made no difference.
It’s important to review what the pilot program had accomplished. A Federal evaluation of the program found that it was significantly narrowing the achievement gap for Black and Hispanic participants. The kicker is that the program cost just $7,500 per student or just over half what the district spent on a per student basis in 2009.
A program that provides disadvantaged students that are mostly Black and Hispanic a good education at half the cost of a failing public school system was just too much for the National Education Association (NEA). The powerful teacher’s union sent letters to Congress threatening legislators:
“We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.”
In other words if you vote to continue the DC program we’re going to use our political clout against you. Considering the 2.3 million dollars the NEA invested in Democratic candidates in 2008 the NEA has considerable political clout. Student achievement and costs be damned the union was standing for a principal: no competition for union labor.
One of the most bizarre aspects of this entire sorted affair is the twisted logic that has to be employed by these Democrats so that they can look at themselves in the mirror. Instead of seeing the good it creates, Democrats see a dark bogeyman where public education is de-funded and only the wealthy can afford an education. The NEA claims that vouchers will reduce standards and weakens public schools. Considering that the Opportunity Scholarship Program cost half as much as the schools filled with NEA teachers and produced better results, the NEA’s last point may be valid.
Let’s do the math. In 2009 Washington D.C. spent $14,240 per student. The voucher program provides $7,500 for a deserving student to go to a private school. If a student uses the voucher the school system gains $6,740 more dollars and it removes a student from the crowded school system, increasing the teacher to student ratio. In one stroke the program increases choice, reduces cost, reduces class sizes, and increases the funding per student for those in public schools. One would think that this concept is simple enough for anyone to understand yet President Obama said that school vouchers reduce choice and increase costs. It must be the new math.
One has to wonder why the President, a graduate of a very prestigious private school in Hawaii (Punahou), would begrudge a similar opportunity for disadvantaged students in Washington D.C. If the President truly and honestly wanted to “spur innovation” and close the “achievement gap” the Washington D.C. program would be funded. It’s obviously more important to the President and Democrats in Congress to provide a little pay back to political supporters and the students in Washington are just collateral damage.
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