"Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program for low-income kids isn't dead yet. But the Obama Administration seems awfully eager to expedite its demise.
About 1,700 kids currently receive $7,500 vouchers to attend private schools under the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and 99% of them are black or Hispanic. The program is a huge hit with parents -- there are four applicants for every available scholarship -- and the latest Department of Education evaluation showed significant academic gains.
Nevertheless, Congress voted in March to phase out the program after the 2009-10 school year unless it is reauthorized by Congress and the D.C. City Council. The Senate is scheduled to hold hearings on the program this month, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised proponents floor time to make their case. So why is Education Secretary Arne Duncan proceeding as if the program's demise is a fait accompli?
Mr. Duncan is not only preventing new scholarships from being awarded but also rescinding scholarship offers that were made to children admitted for next year. In effect, he wants to end a successful program before Congress has an opportunity to consider reauthorizing it. This is not what you'd expect from an education reformer, and several Democrats in Congress have written him to protest.
We know that Barack and Michelle Obama have opted out of public schools in D.C. -- as they also did in Chicago -- and chosen a private school for their own girls. So have 44% of Senators and 36% of Representatives, according to a new Heritage Foundation report. Less well known is that Mr. Duncan has exercised another, far more common kind of school choice for his family.
Science magazine recently asked Mr. Duncan where his daughter attends school and "how important was the school district in your decision about where to live?" He responded: "She goes to Arlington [Virginia] public schools. That was why we chose where we live, it was the determining factor . . . I didn't want to try to save the country's children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children's education." It certainly is easier to champion public schools when you have your pick of the better ones (like the Duncans) or the means to send your children to a private school (like the Obamas).
The Education Department released its annual evaluation of the D.C. program last month -- tellingly, without a press release or media briefing -- and it showed that voucher recipients are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who didn't receive a scholarship. These academic benefits are compounding over time. The study revealed that the program's earliest participants are 19 months ahead of public school peers in reading after three years. Nationwide, black 12th graders as a group score lower on reading tests than white 8th graders. The D.C. voucher program is closing this achievement gap.
See if you can follow this political syllogism. President Obama and his Education Secretary have repeatedly promised to support "what works," regardless of ideology. The teachers unions adamantly oppose school vouchers, whether or not they work. Ergo, Messrs. Obama and Duncan decide to end a D.C. school voucher program that works and force poor kids back into schools where Messrs. Obama and Duncan would never send their own children. What a disgrace."