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Wednesday, March 10, 2010
School Vouchers: The Up or Down Vote Our Country Really Deserves
By Heritage Foundation @ 10:40 PM :: 4291 Views :: National News, Ethics

The Up or Down Vote Our Country Really Deserves

President Barack Obama is touring the country asking for an up-or-down vote on his health care plan. Forget for a second that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) can schedule an up-or-down vote on the Senate health care bill any time she wants, and keep in mind that while Democrats are trying to create the legislative text for President Obama's "new" health care proposal, Senate Democrats are also pushing to include student lending provisions in the reconciliation bill. What does student lending have to do with health care you might ask? Nothing. But the Senate routinely attaches seemingly unrelated matters to must-pass legislation.

That is what makes Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) refusal to honor Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) request to offer an amendment funding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) to the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act so transparently hypocritical. Lieberman has been fighting for months to get an up-or-down vote on the DCOSP and saw a good opportunity with the Business Relief Act. But Reid prevented an up-or-down vote by ruling Lieberman's amendment "not germane" to the underlying legislation. When has that ever stopped the Senate before?

The reality is that the Obama administration and Senate Democrats want to avoid an up-or-down vote on the DCOSP at all costs. Such a vote would force them to choose between their lofty post-partisan education rhetoric and the cold hard reality of the fact that liberal Democrats are beholden to the interests of the teachers unions. Articulating the official position of the Obama administration, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in The Wall Street Journal last year: "We must close the achievement gap by pursuing what works best for kids, regardless of ideology. In the path to a better education system, that’s the only test that really matters." What works. Regardless of ideology. That's the only test.

Well the tests are in and the evidence is that the DCOSP works. Specifically, the Obama administration's own Department of Education released a report showing “those offered a scholarship were performing at statistically higher levels in reading—equivalent to 3.1 months of additional learning.” Like previous evaluations, it also found that “the [Opportunity Scholarship Program] had a positive impact overall on parents’ reports of school satisfaction and safety…”

But the DCOSP works by giving parents education vouchers so that they are then empowered to make their own decisions about which schools are best for their children instead of being subject to the government-union-controlled education monopoly. That is why the Democrats and their like-minded teachers unions want to kill the program despite the fact that it helps poor kids. The Washington Post editorializes today:

Unless Congress acts soon or the D.C. government decides to assume responsibility, the voucher program, which has benefited so many students since its inception in 2004, is in grave danger. The Obama administration closed the program to new students; children currently enrolled, while supposedly assured of getting vouchers until they graduate from high school, face uncertainty as the program's administrator pulls out. This is exactly what the program's chief antagonists, the teachers unions, want; the National Education Association lobbied fiercely against Mr. Lieberman's amendment. Given that a rigorous, federally mandated study confirmed the program's effectiveness and that local leaders such as D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee have supported it, we understand why Mr. Reid sits on his hands. What possible explanation could Democrats devise for killing something that has been so crucial in the lives of thousands of poor D.C. children? How would it look? No, better to do nothing and hope the issue goes away.

President Obama and his administration are very familiar with the empowering benefits school choice brings to families struggling to educate their children. Growing up in Chicago, Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended a private school. Growing up in Hawaii, President Obama attended a private school. Growing up first in Chicago, and now in Washington, Obama’s two daughters attended and still attend private schools. In fact, two of Obama’s daughter’s classmates are able to attend Sidwell Friends thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. And the annual Heritage Foundation survey of Congress and school choice shows that 38% of Members of the 111th Congress sent a child to private school at one time. Congress owes D.C. school children an up-or-down vote on their future.

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