Writing Under the Influence: A Misguided Missive Against School Choice

December 3rd, 2009 Joe Brichacek and Chuck Donovan

Opponents of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program have been losing the war of public opinion since last February when President Barack Obama and the Democrats on Capitol Hill voted to phase out the program. Even liberal political pundits like MSNBC’s Chris Mathews have expressed their outrage over the decision to deny thousands of families in Washington the opportunity to choose a safe and effective school for their children.

Opponents of the scholarships have used every reason they can muster to defend their position.

They argued that the program doesn’t work, despite the fact that the Department of Education released a report earlier this year finding that a student who enters the DCOSP in kindergarten will graduate high school reading two grade levels above their peers in the D.C. Public Schools.

They argued that the local government doesn’t want the program to continue, which is also false. A majority of the D.C. City Council supports the program.

They argue cost, but it’s actually cheaper to educate a child through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The $7,500 voucher is half the amount spent per pupil by the D.C. Public Schools. Also, the taxpayers of D.C. overwhelmingly support the program. A poll conducted over the summer found that seven of 10 D.C. residents support continuation of the program.

Just when it seemed all the reasons to oppose the program were exhausted, D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells and D.C. State Board of Education President Lisa Raymond got a little creative over cocktails.

The Washington Examiner reports:

At a cocktail party on Capitol Hill a week or so ago, D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells found himself chatting with Lisa Raymond, president of the D.C. State Board of Education… When he was on the school board, he had lobbied against vouchers. But when he saw that many poor kids were actually thriving in private schools, he considered organizing the council in favor of vouchers. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and the teachers unions hammered him. His discussion with Raymond sealed the deal, especially when she pointed out that federal funds were going to religious schools, many Catholic, that she argues discriminate against gays and lesbians.

After getting roughed up by Delegate Norton and the teachers unions, Wells decided to flip back and oppose the DCOSP, calling the program “discriminatory.” According to the Washington Post, Wells and Raymond sent a letter to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) this week claiming that because Catholic institutions do not “provide employee benefits to same-sex spouses,” public funds should not go to their schools (879 of D.C.’s approximately 1,700 vouchers go to the city’s Catholic schools).

The Wells-Raymond letter is likely to be seen by both sides in the debate over the opportunity scholarships as an unwelcome attempt to inject another issue, with attendant religious tension, into a debate that has focused thus far on the well-being of students, whose parents make the choice among public schools, charter schools, and private schools of various kinds. It would be ironic as well if the debate over the definition of traditional marriage, which has included assertions that a redefinition will not hurt existing marriages, instead negatively impacted existing parental choices in education.

Still more disconcerting is the idea that Congress might be persuaded to agree to discriminate against low-income families (the DCOPS enrolls children from families with earnings at or below 185 percent of poverty) by limiting their choices in a demonstrably effective program. As Senator Durbin and others weigh the future of parental choice in education in the nation’s capital, that is the grievous form of discrimination on which they should focus and not on Wells and Raymond’s misguided missive after aperitifs.

To learn more about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, watch the Heritage Foundation’s new documentary, Let Me Rise: The Struggle to Save School Choice in the Nation’s Capital at www.VoicesOfSchoolChoice.org.

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Listening To Young Americans On The Deficit

November 13th, 2009 Francie Grace

You wouldn’t think the bottom line on the $1.6 trillion federal budget deficit and $11.9 trillion national debt crisis could be summed up in a single sentence, but when the right words whizzed by, the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel was quick to point them out. Words to remember, in a speech by Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office: “The country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services the people expect the government to provide, particularly in the form of benefits for older Americans, and the tax revenues that people are willing to send to the government to finance those services.”

These words underscore the fact that no matter how complicated and increasingly urgent this problem is, it is one which can be understood by most Americans – who can then consider, debate, and decide on options for the best way to reduce the deficit before its sheer weight makes many decisions for us.

Through PublicAgenda.org, FacingUp.org and our Students Face Up to the Nation’s Finances interactive curriculum for college students, we’ve been helping people understand the problem, why it matters, and how to get involved in the process of charting a path to fiscal health. This fall, we extended the reach of the Facing Up curriculum to include high school and middle school students, who have been using our learning materials as part of the University of Virginia’s Youth Leadership Initiative program.

Through that partnership, we also got a chance to hear more about how young people feel about the fiscal crisis which is shaping all of our futures. In a mock election held to give students a chance to speak out on a range of issues, 77 percent favored a balanced budget; an increase in the age for Social Security eligibility was supported by 64 percent; and increasing payroll taxes was favored by 53 percent. Reducing Social Security benefits was opposed by 69 percent.

We’ll be hearing a lot more about these issues beginning on Monday, when we start accepting entries for the Students Face Up to the Nation’s Finances contest for students, with $500 prizes for the best essays and best multimedia presentations on the federal budget deficit and national debt and what ought to be done about it. The contest has two divisions - one for college students, and another for high school students – and all will have a chance to comment on and discuss each other’s ideas.

December 11 is the entry deadline; click here to see the full contest rules. Students Face Up to the Nation’s Finances, a nonpartisan curriculum available at FacingUp.org, is available to users free of charge thanks to a grant from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

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November 5th, 2009 Billy Hallowell

While honoring the United States is a nice value to instill in children, one wonders if ultra-liberals would have encouraged praise songs when Bush was in office.  I think we all know the answer to that one:

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