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Only for the Privileged Few?
Members of Congress value school choice -- for themselves.

Monday, April 20, 2009

ANEW SURVEY shows that 38 percent of members of Congress have sent their children to private school. About 20 percent themselves attended private school, nearly twice the rate of the general public. Nothing wrong with those numbers; no one should be faulted for personal decisions made in the best interests of loved ones. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if Congress extended similar consideration to low-income D.C. parents desperate to keep their sons and daughters in good schools?

The latest Heritage Foundation study of lawmakers' educational choices comes amid escalating efforts to kill the federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that helps 1,700 disadvantaged children attend private schools. Congress cut funding beyond the 2009-10 school year unless the program, which provides vouchers of up to $7,500, gets new federal and local approvals. Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited that uncertainty as the reason for his recent decision to rescind scholarship offers to 200 new students. Senate hearings on the program's future are set for this spring, and opponents -- chiefly school union officials -- are pulling out all the stops as they lobby their Democratic allies.

The gap between what Congress practices and what it preaches was best illustrated by the Heritage Foundation's analysis of a recent vote to preserve the program. The measure was defeated by the Senate 58 to 39; it would have passed if senators who exercised school choice for their own children had voted in favor. Alas, the survey doesn't name names, save for singling out Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), architect of the language that threatens the program, for sending his children to private school and attending private school himself.

No doubt there are those who would argue that personal choices should not dictate decisions of policymakers. Fair enough, but where is the objective examination of this program, a rational discussion of the pros and cons? Where is the humanity of not wanting to hurt children who won't be able to continue in their current schools if the scholarship program is eliminated? No one has been able to offer any evidence of the drawbacks of this small, local program, while evidence of its benefits has been mounting. It has been disappointing that many of those one would expect to speak up for the educational rights of poor, minority children -- and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) tops the list -- have been almost mute or, as has been the case with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), downright hostile. Meanwhile, former mayor Anthony A. Williams and former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous continue to champion school choice as the civil rights issue it is.

Mr. Duncan, in a recent interview, spoke eloquently of his family's choice of Arlington as a place to live because of what he called the "determining factor" of schools. He told Science magazine: "My family has given up so much so that I could have the opportunity to serve; I didn't want to try to save the country's children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children's education." We don't think it's too much to expect our leaders to treat their constituents with the same fairness and regard they demand for their own families.

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