October 1 2009

The Moment of Truth for Secretary Duncan

Vicki E. Alger

(This post was co-authored by Evelyn B. Stacey, Education Studies Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.)

It's time for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to start practicing what he's been preaching across the country, namely, that he wants to "invest in what works" by rewarding excellence and creating more choice and competition among schools. Yesterday, parents, students, elected officials, and community leaders actually did something to further that goal when they rallied in the nation's capital to save the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Scheduled speakers at the "Save School Choice" rally organized by the "Put Kids First" coalition included U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, D.C. Councilman Marion Barry, former D.C. Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia), Dr. Howard Fuller, founder and executive director of the of Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), D.C. BAEO executive director Virginia Walden Ford, as well as former Sidwell Friends Head of School Bruce Stewart (the private school where several Opportunity Scholarship students attended and where President Barak Obama's children attend).

Last month we asked Secretary Duncan when he plans to stand up-or at least, speak out-for the 216 D.C. students whose Opportunity Scholarships he rescinded. No word yet, but perhaps he'll respond to Latasha Bennett, the parent of an Opportunity Scholarship applicant. "I would like to ask Mr. Secretary Arne Duncan: how is it that my child should not be given the same opportunity as his children to get the best education possible? If Congress gave enough money, why is my daughter being denied the opportunity to attend a great school?" Why indeed, especially since Mr. Duncan recently boasted that the discretionary education funding at his disposal "dwarfs the combined sum of discretionary reform funding available to all of my predecessors as education secretary."

Mr. Secretary, if you truly believe, as you say, that "education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success-it's a prerequisite for success," then practice what you preach. You have stated, "I am convinced children will do extraordinarily well if given the chance." You're absolutely right, Mr. Secretary. Just ask Tiffany Dunston, Archbishop Carroll High School's 2008 Valedictorian and D.C. Opportunity Scholarship recipient: "I am determined to build a better life and want others in my community to have that chance, as well." Do you, Mr. Secretary?

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