The Wall Street Journal’s Allyssa Finley recently spoke with former Washington, D.C., councilman Kevin Chavous about why parental choice is advancing in spite of contentious union opposition. Chavous was a prime mover in establishing and preserving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, enacted in 2003, against all odds. Thanks to him and many other dedicated leaders and parents, disadvantaged children in our country’s capital have the same shot at a decent education as the children of our elected officials:
'It's like a tale of two Americas on school choice," says Kevin Chavous. There's the status quo that includes the teachers unions and their allies. "And then there's the other America"—those "who have to suffer every day because their kids aren't getting the education they deserve."
By his lights, school choice is a war between the "haves" and "have-nots." "The only people fighting educational choice are the people who have educational choice," notes the former Washington, D.C., councilman. …
"This year, 2014, we saw the largest single-year growth in enrollment in programs in the history of school choice," he says. The fastest-growing state is Indiana, which is expected to award 30,000 scholarships this year, up from 590 in 2010. "And the momentum's not going to stop." …
Unions tell parents "that this is a Republican conspiracy," Mr. Chavous says, or "that you all are trying to destroy neighborhood schools." When low-income, working families are "told bad things, they initially fight. But when they understand what this is all about, I've heard so many parents tell me, 'Well, you didn't tell us . . . I can get a scholarship to the Catholic school, this private school that I've been wanting to send my kids to for years, if this passes.' "
Sadly, unions are not alone in their political opposition to parental choice in education. The Obama administration has been active trying to kill scholarship programs across the country, from D.C. to most recently Louisiana—and the administration’s not likely to stop there, as Chavous explains:
The unions' last resort is enlisting the Obama administration. Last year the Justice Department sued to block Louisiana's voucher program on grounds that it violated 40-year-old federal desegregation orders. It was a peculiar argument: The state-wide program, which Mr. Chavous helped persuade black Democratic legislators to support in 2012, provides scholarships to students from poor families who attend schools graded C or below. Ninety percent of the beneficiaries are black.
"It's interesting that DOJ has decided to pick up the baton and try to bootstrap some tenuous and frankly nonsensical segregation argument as a way to end the program," Mr. Chavous says.
Louisiana placated a federal judge overseeing the case by agreeing to release more data on the program. But Mr. Chavous says he has heard that the Justice Department has been collecting evidence about Wisconsin's voucher program, so another lawsuit may be coming. "I just see this as a pattern," he says.
While the country’s largest union, the National Education Association (NEA) may have more manpower and money than the organization Chavous helped found, the American Federation for Children, he has something the union and their affiliates don’t:
… Mr. Chavous has the political power of an idea—education opportunity for all—and school choice is clearly making inroads nationwide. In 2000 four states had private-school choice programs with 29,000 kids. Today, 19 states boast programs that enroll more than 308,000 children.