If the President’s stated goal is to improve the quality of education for some of the most disadvantaged students in the public school system, then how can one explain his attempt, for the second year in a row, to strip funding from a program that allows poor students in Washington D.C. to attend private schools, asks Mona Charen for the National Review. The President is on the record as opposing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program because it doesn’t actually improve student academic outcomes. But according to the data collected by the Black Alliance for Education Options, students who take advantage of the scholarships graduate high school at an astounding 91% rate. This exceeds the graduation rate of those who qualify for the scholarship but don’t take advantage of it by more than 20%. It is also 30% higher than the graduation rate of D.C. public school students, overall.
The president delivers energetic speeches about the “knowledge economy” and the urgent need to improve education for all of America’s kids. He’s been troubled and adamant about the problem of school dropouts: In a 2010 speech, for example, the president declared: “This is a problem we cannot afford to accept, and we cannot afford to ignore. The stakes are too high — for our children, for our economy, and for our country. It’s time for all of us to come together . . . to end America’s dropout crisis.” But the program in D.C. that cuts dropout rates by 30 points? He’s standing in the schoolhouse door saying “No exit.”
President Obama’s negative attitude towards the program is especially jarring in light of the fact that at least two students took advantage of the money to enroll in Sidwell Friends, one of the top schools in the nation, and one chosen by the President for his own two daughters.
The last time Mr. Obama, who likes to style himself the voice of the 99 percent, attempted to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program, it was saved by Speaker of the House John Boehner — just another white Republican who cares nothing for blacks and Hispanics. During tense budget negotiations in 2011, Boehner succeeded in getting the president’s approval for a five-year reauthorization of the $20 million program.
This year, the President’s budget proposal calls for a 2.5% increase in education funding, but none of that money is slated to go to fund the OSP or programs like it. Instead, the money is earmarked exclusively for the public school system. A public school system that, despite a hefty $18,000 spend per year, per student, still can’t get more than 40% of its fourth graders reading at grade level.
It’s hard to justify the President’s attitude towards a program that serves families with the average income of only $24,000 and makes possible for their kids to take advantage of opportunities easily available to the First Family.