Yesterday, IWF junior fellow Sarah Walters and I participated in (and recorded) the rally supporting the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program outside the U.S. Department of Education. About 100 children with their parents in yellow t-shirts proclaiming “Put Kids First” held signs chanting, “Do the right thing” and “Put Kids First,” for about 40 minutes. Others supporters joined the chanting and participated along with the children and their parents. I met some of the children and parents speaking from the heart for this opportunity. It was great to see such amazing support and effort being presented.

 Across the street, however, self-proclaimed activist Robert Brannum sat in his car with two loudspeakers strapped to the roof chanting in opposition, “No to vouchers.” I couldn’t believe what this guy was doing, so I looked into his background. Brannum is an advocate for high quality public education, according to his web site when he unsuccessfully ran for D.C. State School Board (despite stating in The Washington Times that his son goes to private school.) This man supports public education and protests against school vouchers, but sends his son to private school? That’s a bit hypocritical. Great news that he can send his child to private school, but what about the thousands of low income families in the District who cannot afford that luxury? The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program offers students a chance to escape public schools plagued by violence and inadequate teachers – which in turn prevent the growth of America’s future. Public schools are not meant for every child. School choice gives parents that option.

In July 2009, Braun Research released a poll that showed 75 percent of D.C. residents supported the voucher program. This included support from 77 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Independents. If that doesn’t mean something, what will it take for the Obama Administration and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to realize the benefit of this program?

Further confirmation comes from a principal investigator of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program Impact Evaluation, Patrick J. Wolf, who found this information regarding the program:

“In the D.C. voucher evaluation, the proportion of parents who assigned a grade of A or B to their child’s school was 11 percent higher if they were offered a voucher than if they were not, 12 percent higher if their child actually used a scholarship, and 21 percent higher if their child was attending a private school in the third year. Parents whose children used an Opportunity Scholarship also expressed greater confidence in their children’s safety in school than parents in the control group.”

This program works. School choice works. The education system needs to be reformed and until that happens, we need to give kids a chance to learn.

Speaking at the rally yesterday, former D.C. Councilman Kevin Chavis said, “We are not going to accept these children going to schools that don’t work for them. We’ve got the majority of the city council that supports this program, we’ve got the mayor that supports this program, we’ve got the chancellor that supports this program and more importantly, D.C. residents support this program. We have to keep fighting for our children. Make the President, make Secretary Duncan do the right thing.”

We hope that more and more people will realize that it is time for Secretary Duncan to do the right thing and, like the students’ t-shirts said, put kids first.