March 24, 2010
WASHINGTON--An eighth-grader named Shaketa and hundreds of fellow students are on the move again to save D.C. Opportunity Scholarships from the end imposed by Congress.
Shaketa is among eight of the beset scholarship program's 1,700 enrollees who appear in provocative print advertisements displayed in Metro's busy Union Station subway stop and - within days - on 225 buses traveling every Metro route in the District. [To see the ads in a PDF folder, click here.]
The four-week ad campaign, sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, began Monday evening, when 42 chalkboard-themed ads greeted rush-hour commuters in showcases along the Metro platform at Union Station. The public service ads also are grouped at station exits and entrances.
Each ad is a portrait of Shaketa, fourth-grader Nico or one of the other six smiling, bright-eyed girls and boys, shown standing hands on hips behind a slogan rendered as if stenciled in chalk: "Let Me Rise!"
The children, in kindergarten through 11th grade, are real-life recipients of D.C. Opportunity Scholarships of up to $7,500 allowing them to attend a school of their parents' choosing.
The message "Let Me Rise!" is aimed at members of the House and Senate - whose staff routinely ride Metro to and from Union Station. But the cry also is designed to catch the eye of fair-minded parents and taxpayers - tourists as well as locals - who believe kids, regardless of family income, should have an alternative to failing public schools.
Berman and Company, a Washington-based communications and advertising firm, created the ads. They all direct readers to the effort's Web site, VoicesforSchoolChoice.org, and carry the disclaimer: "Brought to you by The Heritage Foundation."
Each ad identifies the pictured student by first name only.
"Why is his future hanging in the balance?" the text asks. "Because some want to eliminate his scholarship."
One ad pictures seventh-grader Fransoir, grinning and his arms folded, under the headline "Kids vs. Congress" and alongside a chalk drawing of the U.S. Capitol. The text gets to the point: "38% of members of Congress have sent a child to private school. Now, Congress wants to phase out a scholarship that gives children in D.C. the same opportunity."
Despite the program's track record of success since 2004, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate last year cut off future funding for the scholarships at the behest of President Barack Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and powerful teachers unions.
The most recent setback came March 16. In a 55-42 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) to reauthorize the program for another five years.
"Few wrongs are greater than the inequality that endures in American education," says Virginia Walden Ford, a Heritage Foundation visiting fellow and mother of a past scholarship recipient, who has made saving the scholarship program the cause of her life. "More than a half century after the Supreme Court rejected segregation in our nation's schools, minority children are still less likely to receive a quality education."
The ads feature third-grader Anijah, sixth-grader Shawnee and three sets of siblings: Fransoir and brother Pierre, a kindergartener; Nico and sister Nia, also in kindergarten; Shaketa, seventh-grade sister Rhunetta and 11th-grade brother Rashawn.
Three variations show a thought balloon chalked alongside a student's cocked head and musing expression, posing one of these tough questions:
Similar ads with the "Let Me Rise!" slogan are scheduled to appear by the weekend on the back or side of 225 Metro buses.
Federally mandated evaluations of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program concluded enrolled students outperform peers in public school and their parents are happier with the education they're getting. More than seven out of 10 D.C. residents support the voucher program, one poll showed.
Featured schoolchildren also appear with Ms. Walden Ford in the Heritage-produced documentary, "Let Me Rise: The Struggle to Save School Choice in the Nation's Capital," a 30-minute film narrated by NPR correspondent Juan Williams.
The Heritage Foundation is the nation's most broadly supported public policy research institute, with more than 600,000 individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 255 and an annual expense budget of $75.3 million.