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Freedom in the Nation's Capital
by La Shawn Barber
16 May 2003

D.C. schools spent $13,525 per pupil in 2001, yet politicians believe more money will solve the problem.  Mayor Tony Williams' acceptance of President Bush's school voucher proposal is a step in the right direction.

Anthony Williams is out of line.

Untangling his feet from the lock step procession of black Democratic party elites, he's taken a courageous step toward common sense. Mayor Williams reversed course and accepted President Bush's school voucher proposal, ushering in a new day in the nation's capital and liberating low income children from deteriorating, unaccountable government-run schools.

Under the FY2004 budget, the District of Columbia will receive about $7 million for a voluntary school voucher program. Students may use the funds to attend public, private or charter schools. Guess which option will end up in the dust.

Despite the fierce resistance of the Washington Teachers Union -- whose president robbed dues-paying teachers of $5 million over the past seven years  --and D.C. liberals who send their kids to private schools, the District's government-run schools will be forced to improve and compete for students or go "out of business." At last.

In 1998, Congress tried to rescue low income students from the ruins of crumbling schools with a similar voucher plan. Guess which Democratic president from Arkansas vetoed the bill.

Freeing his mind from D.C. liberal groupthink, Anthony Williams excused himself from the shrill partisan bickering and rediscovered a sense of obligation to his constituency that overruled his loyalty to a broken, outdated agenda. "We've got a model we've been using for 140 years. I think it's time to try something else," he said.

As expected, District Democrats attacked the mayor's character and intellect, calling him a "sellout" and "stupid." Apparently, listening to the pleas of desperate parents to release their incarcerated kids makes Anthony Williams a dim-witted man. They all must be brilliant.

Although creative with personal attacks, D.C. liberals display a pathetic paucity of ideas about how to fix the broken school system. According to the National Education Association, D.C. schools spent $13,525 per pupil in 2001, second highest in the nation behind New York State, yet politicians believe more money will solve the problem. They claim the plan will "siphon money away" from public schools. False, but it should be true.

There's nothing like a free market to shake things up. Government-run schools have gotten away with "selling" a substandard product for decades because they don't compete for customers, who will always want the best for their dollars. "A robust educational market in the nation's capital is more likely to develop by allowing a wide range of educational opportunities for children, especially those now poorly served in the system…private schools are held accountable not by bureaucrats but by parents who can seek out options," said Casey Lartigue, an Education Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute.

As Mayor Williams strives to widen the range of choices for students and clean up the District's reputation on education, he'll be demonize. He'll need the encouragement of strong, independent-minded blacks, such as President Bush's Education Secretary Rod Paige, who warned that, "Black children are the lowest-performing minority in public schools. Where we are now, we are in a bad position educationally. We are on our way to oblivion."

He'll need the fortitude of Joe Clark, the former principal (played by the actor Morgan Freeman in the movie “Lean on Me”) who transformed inner-city Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey in the early 1980s. A right-thinking educator, Clark gained national attention by instilling discipline and holding high expectations of his students, and confronting them when they failed to perform. He had harsh words for Williams's critics. "I think it's absolutely deplorable and despicable that we subject the needy in our society to an inferior educational process while the children of the elitists in our society flourish in excellent academic environments." he said. Today's government-run schools are a "bureaucracy that is putrid and fetid to the core…turning out academically inferior young people, especially American blacks." Strong words from a strong man.

While his colleagues shamelessly battle to deny students a better place to think, learn and grow, Mayor Williams has put principles above politics. Either liberals really believe kids are better off confined to rotting schools or know they'll be out of jobs once parents realize just how much their kids have been cruelly cheated out of good educations by pen-pushing politicians.

Guess which answer is right.

La Shawn Barber's bi-weekly column also appears on TheRightReport.com.  A frequent contributor to the Washington Times, her work has been published in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jewish World Review, The Black World Today, Grace-Centered Magazine and other publications. A freelance writer and former liberal, La Shawn is now a renegade supporter of conservative ideals."

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