D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) said that "a voucher program would rob the public school system of some of its best and brightest pupils -- and some of its most committed parents" [letters, March 3].

The issue isn't whether the system is better off by keeping parents hostage, but whether parents and their children would be better off with options outside a broken public school system.

Vouchers wouldn't "rob" the public schools of pupils or money any more than Mr. Fenty would "rob" Sears if he shopped at Hecht's. And vouchers wouldn't "rob" the public schools any more than the schools were robbed when, in 1986, Mr. Fenty left the public schools to attend Mackin Catholic High School.

CASEY LARTIGUE

Washington

The writer is an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

*

Adrian Fenty mischaracterized several features of the president's proposal to assist the students of the District.

The president's budget calls for the creation of a program to expand choice within the District. If enacted, the program would allow a public entity or nonprofit, community-based organization to apply for additional funds (outside of the D.C. appropriations package) to offer low-income students an opportunity to attend a public or private school of their choice.

Since the enactment of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, about 10,000 D.C. students have qualified for public school choice, but the city has not been able to offer them meaningful options. When D.C. School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz was asked where she planned to place these students, she said, "We cannot manufacture schools that do not exist." The president's budget could help Ms. Cafritz address this problem at a fraction of the cost of educating a child in the city's public school system, which at $12,000 per pupil is among the highest in the nation.

A school choice program is likely to improve the achievement of both the students who leave and those who stay in D.C. schools. This has been the result of the Milwaukee school choice program, which has operated for more than a decade.

The administration looks forward to working with city officials to improve the city's public schools, but attacking the president's offer for additional funds to aid the city's neediest students is not the most auspicious place to start.

NINA SHOKRAII REES

Deputy Undersecretary

For Innovation and Improvement

U.S. Department of Education

Washington