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No Reprieve for D.C. Students
by La Shawn Barber
09 October 2003Teddy Kennedy

Senate Democrats continue to resist school vouchers. Why? Because their livelihood depends on keeping your children locked up.

I'm glad I didn't do time in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

Low-income students in the nation's capital are serving sentences for crimes they didn't even commit. The jailers -- limousine liberals on Capitol Hill and on the D.C. City Council -- watch over them like wardens, dangling lost opportunity in their faces like keys. Denying parents educational choice isn't criminal, but it's unquestionably immoral. And all the disingenuous, anti-voucher arguments in the world won't change the fact that it's low-income students who stand convicted.

On September 30, 2003, Senate Republicans withdrew the bill that contained President George W. Bush's federally funded pilot voucher plan -- which passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 209 to 208 -- because Democrats threatened a filibuster (what happens when people who love the sound of their own voices ramble on for the sole purpose of delaying votes on important issues like school choice). Republicans didn't have the 60 votes needed to shut Democrats up and force a vote. At least not yet.

Under President Bush's plan, 1,700 students would get as much as $7,500 to make a jail break from the DCPS. Ironically, the bill also provides $26 million in additional funding for the District's government-run schools, a fact rarely reported.

While evidence shows that the longer a child remains in the DCPS, the worse he performs academically, liberals continue depriving already under-educated and under-performing students of a good education. Knowing that education is the way out of poverty, Democrats continue to resist vouchers. Why? Because their livelihood depends on keeping your children locked up.

They count on your willful blindness, hoping you can't see the conflict of interest between their dependence on teachers unions and the unions' rabid antagonism to educational choice. Teachers unions will lose money if students flee failing government-run schools. Teachers unions donate tens of millions of dollars to Democrats. See a connection?

They count on your misguided suspicion. Senator Edward M. Kennedy says he's worried about private schools being less accountable than government-run schools. Kennedy sent his sons to Phillips Academy and St. Albans. Does he really believe those elite schools he paid for were somehow "less accountable" than the government-run schools he shunned? Give me a break.

They count on your paranoia. An older generation of blacks remembers when whites once used vouchers to send their kids away from black students during integration. To them, vouchers are a throwback, a racist ploy. Literacy tests were once used to keep uneducated blacks from voting. Does that mean all tests are racist ploys?

They count on your amnesia. Blacks once had to "stay in their place" if they didn't want trouble. Organizations like the NAACP fought for educational opportunity for blacks. Now those same organizations want your kids to stay right where they are: in a place where they lack educational opportunity. And Democrats want to make sure blacks -- all 90 percent who vote for them -- continue to stay in their place.

They count on your lack of common sense. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, a Democrat and recent convert to school choice, said it best: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result." Billions of dollars have been poured down the DCPS drain. Despite an expenditure of more than $12,000 per pupil -- the highest in the whole country -- D.C. is still in the educational basement.

Vouchers work. Studies show they even improve the performance of public schools. Yet, with all the evidence that vouchers work, the left-leaning Washington Post still referred to President Bush's plan as an "unproven project of conservative interest groups." Right. As opposed to that proven failure of liberal interest groups.

According to Casey Lartigue, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute, more than 70 percent of 10th and 11th graders in D.C. public schools performed math at the "Below Basic" level on the Stanford 9 achievement test in 2002. More than 90 percent read at "Basic" or "Below Basic" reading level. More than 85 percent scored at the "Basic" and "Below Basic" level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Could an "unproven project" be any worse than this?

If you can't answer that question with a resounding "NO!", you probably did time in the DCPS.

A freelance writer and former liberal, La Shawn's work has appeared in the Washington Post, Washington Times, and Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

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