March 10, 2009 | Commentary on Education, Parental Choice in Education

Undue Expulsion for D.C. Kids

"I told my mom not too long ago I would like to be president one day when I grow up," writes Fransoir, a seventh grader and recipient of a scholarship to attend a private school in the District of Columbia. But if congressional Democrats have their way, his academic future could become another casualty in the war of educational politics.

Since 2004, thousands of children like Fransoir have had scholarships worth up to $7,500 to attend a private school of their choice as a part of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Currently, more than 1,700 low-income children are benefiting. However, language in the current $410 billion spending bill in Congress would eliminate the program. That would mean going back to D.C. public schools, a system with one of the lowest graduation rates in the country, despite spending more than $14,000 per student, well above the national average.

D.C. fourth- and eighth graders rank last on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And while last academically, D.C. public schools ranked first in school violence.

The prospect of losing their scholarships -- and having to return to the unsafe, underperforming public schools -- prompted students to write letters to President Barack Obama asking him to continue to support this program. In her letter to Obama, 12-year-old Sakeithia writes, "My old public school was not a very safe place. I saw a lot of things a child should not see. . . . I love to learn and will continue this with your help by keeping the scholarship going."

Breanna, age 9, had this to say: "President Obama, I really like my new school because I am getting all A's and B's. I love to read. I'm in the fourth grade and read on a 5.3 reading level."

The letters also reveal the hopes that the opportunity scholarships have unleashed in these young people. Dominique wants to become an obstetrician. Breanna, a translator. Paul, an architect. De'Andre plans to go to Morehouse College, like his role model Martin Luther King Jr.

The D.C. Opportunity Program is making a tremendous difference in the lives of hundreds of children and their families. Their experiences should ring familiar to Obama, who himself benefited from school choice. He, along with members of Congress, should put the interests of the children - not of unions or other political factions - first as they consider this program's future.

Lindsey M. Burke is a research assistant at The Heritage Foundation. Virginia Walden Ford is the executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice and a visiting scholar at Heritage.

About the Author

Lindsey Burke Will Skillman Fellow in Education
Domestic Policy Studies

Virginia Walden Ford Visiting Fellow
Domestic Policy Studies

First Appeared in the Boston Herald