MOST OF THE PARENTS who showed up Saturday to find out more about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program could not care less about the politics or the polemics behind private school vouchers. What matters to them is arranging a decent education for their children. The excitement they brought to the task of choosing a good school for their sons and daughters should give pause to those who sought to deny them this opportunity.
D.C. parents, including many single mothers, streamed into the Renaissance Hotel for information about the federally funded program that this year will provide vouchers of up to $12,000 to children from low-income families to attend private schools. The scholarship program began in 2004 as part of a three-pronged approach to improve education in the District; additional resources also were funneled to traditional and charter public schools. When Democrats recaptured Congress, they barred the scholarship program from accepting new students, with the Obama administration a disappointing accomplice. The administration even rescinded scholarships that had been promised to 216 families in 2009. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), a strong supporter, used his clout to broker the program’s reauthorization as part of the deal to avert a federal shutdown.
Given the popularity of the program — evident in the hundreds of applicants as well as a recent Post poll showing more than two-thirds of D.C. residents (even higher numbers among African Americans) in support — there’s a strange disconnect in seeing such local leaders as Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) voice their opposition. They should hear Josette Hardy, her voice breaking, talk about wanting a better future — “including college” — for her 5-year-old daughter, Jamia. For Ms. Hardy, having lost out on lotteries for better-performing public schools, winning a scholarship is the only thing that will allow her daughter to escape the failing school in her Southeast neighborhood.
LaKia Smith, hoping to win a voucher for her 10-year-old son, said it best: “We should have as many choices as possible, not just the choices you choose to give us.”