Compromising the Education of the Poor

The cost  is not even a rounding error in the national budget, but the Congressionally-funded Washington DC voucher program is highly symbolic and therefore a conspicuous target for those fearful of giving parents — particularly poor parents —  choices in the education of their children.  The average spending per pupil in the country is a about $9000, at least $4000 less than what is spent per pupil in the District of Columbia. Others have made the same calculation for DC public schools and compute a much higher value for per pupil expenditure. In any case, this amount if properly used, would seem sufficient to create at least a competent educational program. Nonetheless, DC public schools continue to rank at or near the bottom when compared to other systems.

The children of the affluent in the District of Columbia have no shortage of private schools to choose from. Indeed, President Barack Obama has availed himself of this option by sending his two daughters to Sidwell Friends at about $30K a piece. It, therefore, seems somewhat parsimonious for the President to a minor extent and more specifically for Democrats in Congress to end this scholarship program in the Omnibus Spending bill just pasted. The program offered a $7500 scholarship to offset tuition at a private or charter school to 3000 disadvantaged children, This enable the children of  poor parents to opt out of (some might say escape) local failing schools.  The long waiting list for the program attests to its popularity, or at least to disrepute of public schools.

The program is not expensive and the cost of any program has not seemed to be a deterrent for spending for the present government. The problem is that the success of non-public run schools represents an embarrassing indictment of DC public schools and of the teacher unions that are dependent upon them. Public school teacher unions would hate to see the idea gain popularity an provide unwanted competition. The termination of the program in the District of Columbia is a simple payback to the teacher’s unions. No one in the government has suggested that scholarships be part of the stimulus package. I suppose the money is better spent saving jobs in non-existent Congressional districts.

It is often said, “politics isn’t bean bag.” To the victor go the spoils. Teachers unions have received a good return on their political investments. However, in this case it would seem that the current government could avoid making the desperate children in DC public schools educational collateral damage.

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