May 18, 2009 | Commentary on Education, Parental Choice in Education

If Members of Congress Can Choose, Why Can't We?

"We cannot be satisfied until every child in America -- I mean every child -- has the same chance for a good education that we want for our own children." Candidate Barack Obama made this stirring promise in Flint, Michigan, last June.

But as inspiring as these words are, the first 100 days of the Obama presidency prove those words don't match the president's actions. Despite this decree that every child should have the chance for a good education, Obama has been nearly silent in the debate concerning the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that gives more than 1,700 low-income children in the District of Columbia a chance to attend a private school of their choice. Obama's silence has proven especially disappointing for the families that rely on this lifeline out of the unsafe and ineffective D.C. public school system.

Since 2004, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has been providing scholarships so children in low-income families can attend a private school of their choice. Without these scholarships, many of these children would be attending low-performing public schools in the District -- where they'd be more worried about their daily safety than what college they aim to attend upon graduation.

The scholarship program is working, though. The Department of Education recently published a report that found participating students had made greater progress on reading tests than their peers who remained in public school.

Despite this success, President Obama recently signed a large federal spending bill that included a small provision that threatens to end the scholarship program. Powerful education Association encouraged Congress to include language in the bill that cuts off future funding for the program.

Why would Congress and the Obama administration aim to end this successful program? Money is not the issue. This year, the federal government is spending tax dollars at a record pace, including $97 billion for education programs alone. The truth is that many members of Congress seem to oppose policies that give parents the power to choose the best school for their children.

But, when it comes to their own lives, many of these lawmakers practice school choice. According to a recent Heritage Foundation survey, 44 percent of senators and 36 percent of House members have at one time sent a child to private school. General public enrollment in private school is around 11 percent.

Meanwhile, as if we needed even more proof of the serious problems in American education, a recent Department of Education report shows the achievement gap between Hispanics and White students persists despite the federal government's efforts under President Bush's landmark "No Child Left Behind" Law. According to the report, Hispanic students still lag behind their white counterparts in reading comprehension exams -- particularly among high-school students.

Another gut-wrenching figure comes from a recent study by the America's Promise Alliance that concluded that in many of our country's major cities (including Los Angeles and New York), the Hispanic drop-out rate stands at almost 50 percent.

Unfortunately it's been business as usual so far in Washington, DC, despite the president's soaring rhetoric that he'd confront the achievement gap and shake up the education system's status quo.

If President Obama is serious about improving educational opportunities for all children, he could prove it by confronting the special-interest groups and fighting to save the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. All families -- not just members of Congress and the wealthy -- deserve the opportunity to choose the best school for their children.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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First Appeared in OneNewsNow.com