February 9 2010
Who's Standing in the Way of the DC Voucher Program?
Last Friday, I participated on a panel for the PBS show To The Contrary, where we discussed President Obama’s budget decision to actually increase spending on some “women’s” issues. Specifically, he recommends increasing funding for programs to help victims of domestic violence, sex education, and the early childhood education program Head Start.
When DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton defended the value of Head Start – claiming it would help low-income children in need of a better education – I reminded her of the recent Health and Human Services study that found the effects of Head Start vanish by the first grade. I told her if we really care about improving the lives of these young children, we should give them a real Head Start by expanding educational freedom -- including the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.
But unfortunately, Del. Norton has been a staunch opponent of the DC voucher program -- and like so many other opponents, sends her children to private school in the District.
So I appreciated reading Fred Hiatt’s piece in today’s WaPo, which asks President Obama why he wants to kill the DC Voucher program:
But even if you're inclined against vouchers, why not embrace a program that has a chance to shed real light on the long-running, fraught and inconclusive argument about their effectiveness? The D.C. program was established to provide such evidence. It enrolled a control group of children who applied for vouchers but didn't get them, and it is following them along with the kids with vouchers. In a couple more years, if funded robustly, it would give us a real sense of what worked and what didn't. That could be helpful to lots of children.
Yet the Obama administration seems to be doing everything it can to wind down the program. Why? Early research results have been positive -- certainly in terms of parental satisfaction, but also for achievement. Maybe the Democratic Party, and the teachers union leaders who support it, would rather not see any more evidence.
Congress loves to bring something tangible home to its constituents – sweeping pieces of legislation that they can wave about. But sometimes the best work Congress can do is not through a grand, showpiece legislation, but through marginal reforms that will keep programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program in place.
If Del. Norton and the Democrats in Congress really care about helping children from low-income communities, they ought to tell President Obama to reconsider his position on school choice in the District.