Officials in Washington, D.C., in state capitals, and on thousands of school committees from the Atlantic to the Pacific talk a lot about educational choice and freedom. But when it comes to actually supporting educational choice — particularly for those families least able to exercise choice on their own — they are often to be found manning the barricades in opposition to any but traditional public schools, financed by taxpayer dollars and dominated by bureaucrats and unions.
Perhaps the most egregious example of anti-choice in education can be found in the nation’s capital itself, where the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has since 2004 provided vouchers for thousands of children — predominantly poor minorities — to attend schools better than the failing institutions they would otherwise endure.
Yet, rather than support the program, President Obama in 2009 moved to eliminate all funding for it. In 2011, lawmakers restarted the program, once again opening it to new enrollments. But Obama’s latest budget again removes all funding. Students currently enjoying the use of vouchers will continue to receive funding through 2013, but the future of the program will depend upon new action by Congress or the next administration.
Against nearly unanimous opposition from school officials and the district’s teachers’ union, the parents won a court fight over a petition to trigger the process of changing the district’s Desert Hills Elementary from a traditional public school to a public charter school with independent governance. School officials, however, continue to engage in delaying tactics and legal maneuvers in an effort to block the change. One has defied a court order, vowing to be led away in handcuffs sooner than give parents a real choice.
To be sure, the educational landscape in Massachusetts is more hopeful, with a vigorous public charter school movement, and a deep tradition of private, parochial, vocational and alternative schools.
But even here, waiting lists for charter placement are too long, and unnecessary caps limit enrollment. Competition and choice are catalysts for good in nearly every industry and endeavor. Education is no exception. Massachusetts is ahead of many states, but can do still better.
Viewing the educational skirmishes around the nation, and even some closer to home, it’s hard to know which is more important to some school administrators — the welfare of students or the funds they bring to the school.
Parents will never retreat from fighting for their children. The lesson for administrators: Take care of what happens in the classroom, and you will have nothing to worry about in the business office.