A Test of the President’s Education Priorities

At a recent gathering of state school officials, President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan were warmly received. Despite the fact that Obama suggested that perhaps teachers’ pay should in part be based on student performance and perhaps charter schools should be considered, he received enthusiastic plaudits. Was this because public school officials believed that Obama really believed in those policy prescriptions or because they¬† were convinced that the current education establishment would be further subsidized under Obama’s leadership?

We have a current chance to measure rhetoric against actions. Congress has previously subsidized the Opportunity Scholarship program, a voucher program that provides $7500 to about 1700 to low-income students. This value is some what less than the over $9000 the public schools in the District of Columbia spend per pupil. Student’s can apply this voucher to private schools to offset tuition.

The new spending bill includes a provision (added by Senator Dick Durbin, Obama’s former Senate colleague from Illinois) to remove these vouchers, a unbashful curtsy to teacher unions. The unions fear that their monopoly would be attenuated if students could use vouchers to choose to leave under-performing public schools.

The elimination of the program will have an ironic effect on two students Sarah and James Parker who attend Sidwell Friends, the same elite school attended by President Obama’s girls. Obama can financially afford to enroll his girls at Sidwell Friends as opposed the DC public schools. (President Jimmy Carter did send his children to public schools.) Unfortunately without the vouchers the Parker family cannot exercise the same option.

Obama has a choice to support the teachers unions or the Parkers. It is a test of rhetoric versus action.

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