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Motives Revealed: Special Interest Threats Behind Plan to Tear Scholarships from Low-Income Children

Without much fanfare, Democrats in Congress have quietly set in motion a plan that the Washington Post has described as “an ill-disguised bid to kill a program that gives some poor parents a choice regarding where their children go to school.”

Through a little-noticed provision tucked in the FY 2009 omnibus spending bill – a $410 billion monstrosity that funds everything from the United States Secret Service to international fisheries commissions – opponents of parental choice in education have seen to it that nearly 1,700 children in the nation’s capital are likely to be forced out of the private schools they currently attend and back into dangerous, academically-underperforming schools that are universally viewed as some of the worst in the nation.

It has been said that you should never judge a man’s actions until you know his motives. That’s what makes a recent letter from the National Education Association so illuminating. Sent earlier this month solely to congressional Democrats, the letter includes a not very subtle threat of political retribution against members who would dare to support an educational escape hatch for children trapped in underperforming schools. It also makes clear the expected quid pro quo – we help you win elections, you help us dismantle parental choice in education.  

“The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher ("DC Opportunity Scholarship") program. We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress. …

“Particularly following the last two election cycles, it would be unconscionable for Congress to extend the…DC voucher program over the objections of NEA and the tens of thousands of NEA members who toiled long and hard to elect a pro-public education Congress.”

Letter to the Democrats in the House and Senate on DC Vouchers,” 03.05.09 

The D.C. public school system needs all the help it can get. Luckily for the children enrolled, a team of dynamic and unapologetic reformers have taken charge and are working aggressively to turn things around. But transformation takes time, and that’s something that low-income children don’t have to spare.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, and even President Barack Obama’s spokesman have recently come out in opposition to any plan that would disrupt the education of these children by taking them out of schools where they are happy, safe, and satisfied. Congressional leaders have a choice: give in to political blackmail from special interest groups who have a vested interest in ending the D.C. scholarship program or stand with the President, his Education Secretary, and the D.C. Mayor in support of a program that helps low-income children attend safer, higher performing schools.

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