Saturday, November 15, 2008
MICHELLE OBAMA'S visits to two private schools and her inquiries about Washington's public schools have sparked the inevitable public vs. private debate. We won't be weighing in because we would never presume to tell any parents where to send their children to school. Yet, as President-elect Barack Obama and his wife decide what's right for Malia and Sasha, Mr. Obama might want to think about the families that he would deny this precious freedom of choice.
During the just-concluded campaign, Mr. Obama spoke dismissively of the federally funded voucher program that gives poor D.C. families access to the kind of educational opportunities his family is fortunate to have. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program gives low-income families up to $7,500 per child for their children to escape failed public schools and attend private schools. Some 1,900 children receive vouchers, and many more are clamoring to join the program. Democrats, and their allies in public school teachers unions, oppose the vouchers and, with the party soon to control Congress and the White House, supporters of the program are right to worry.
Let's hope the experience of moving his girls and finding the place where they will flourish resonates with Mr. Obama so that he reexamines his stance on the District's voucher program. How is it right to take away what little choice there is for needy D.C. children? The scholarship program wasn't intended to replace Washington's public schools, and it doesn't lessen the urgency of improving them. But it does give some poor parents an opportunity taken for granted by better-off families, who can pick their residency based on school district even if they can't afford the most elite private schools.
To their credit, the schools Michelle Obama visited this week -- Georgetown Day and Sidwell Friends -- participate in the voucher program, as do many other area private schools. That means classmates of Malia and Sasha might lose the ability to attend their chosen school if the vouchers were eliminated. That wouldn't seem fair.