We who live in the District do not enjoy the right of self-government. If you think about it in terms of the life of a child, true home rule is nowhere on the horizon. Home rule did not arise out of the last Democratic presidential administration, which claimed to support it. It most likely will not arise out of this administration, which is intransigently opposed to it.

School voucher legislation introduced in the House and Senate would make millions of dollars in "scholarship" money available to D.C. parents and could enable them to send their children to private or parochial schools in Maryland, Virginia or the District. Some version of this legislation is certain to pass.

Schools, be they public, private, religious or secular, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Jewish, make an indelible contribution to the fabric and character of a community. Through schools we pass on the values and mores of our society to our children. No community, including one bereft of self-government, should forsake or be denied its responsibility to educate its children.

This responsibility is the most critical building block of a community. Our children cannot afford to wait until we secure home rule. Therefore, let us extract from the federal government a commitment to provide the resources and mechanisms necessary to sustain an educational system befitting the capital city of the world's lone superpower.

We should join the U.S. Department of Education in forging a system that includes vouchers, charter schools and public schools -- one that would afford children in the District the best possible education. To accomplish this we must:

* Accept the federally proposed voucher or scholarship program.

* Insist that the vouchers be used only in D.C. schools.

* Work with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to ensure that Catholic schools meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and that they make test scores available to the public.

* Work with the cardinal to attract to the District academically sound networks of Catholic schools that have improved student performance in other cities.

* Support high-performing charter schools and encourage their replication, and swiftly shut down charter schools that do not meet educational standards.

* Accept that, despite these programs, D.C. public schools will continue to educate most of the students in our nation's capital.

* Ask Congress to adopt a "Marshall Plan" for the development of facilities for public schools, charters and other nonprofit education providers in the city.

* Provide parents with a directory of options, including a detailed and objective profile of each school.

* Stand up for what we believe is right for our children and actually do what we claim to do.

Paul Vance is the first superintendent we have had in 30 years who has experience running a school system that has been nationally recognized for its successes (Montgomery County). The current Board of Education has been in office for a little more than two years, and it inherited a school system torn asunder by three decades of mismanagement and neglect. We are aggressively putting the pieces back together. We know what we are doing. Hold us fully accountable, but, in doing so, give us the support and resources necessary for this monumental task.

One of three children in the District lives in poverty. One of three adults in this city is functionally illiterate. Each was once a child whom we failed to educate, a child we delivered to a life of dependency and an overburdened social service system, a child we excluded from the workforce -- a child that we excluded from democracy. If the past is prologue, this problem will not be solved by politicians or pundits. It will be solved by forging a partnership among educational leaders, parents and the federal government so that every child has a chance to be a fully participating member of our society.

The writer is president of the D.C. Board of Education.