Independent Women’s Forum, August 21, 2009
School will start in the nation’s capital in just two weeks, but 216 D.C. schoolchildren still don’t know where they’ll be going because Education Secretary Arne Duncan rescinded their Opportunity Scholarships. And, in spite of promises to do whatever works in education, the Obama Administration has tolerated Congressional efforts spearheaded by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to kill this successful school choice program. D.C. Parents for School Choice Executive Director Virginia Walden Ford has composed a few questions for White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that she thinks should be asked during today’s press briefing. So do we:
D.C. PARENTS FOR SCHOOL CHOICE RECOMMENDED MEDIA QUESTIONS FOR WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS, 8/21/09
1. This Spring, the Administration revoked the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships for 216 low-income D.C. students. D.C. public schools start in the next two weeks. Parents, Senators and Congressmen, and the D.C. City Council have all said they want these scholarships restored. Will the Administration speak out publicly today and explain why these children should be denied scholarships?
2. President Obama often talks about parental responsibility and the importance of kids staying in school. But his actions on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program-the federally-funded school voucher program for the District of Columbia-look hypocritical. By revoking the scholarships for 216 kids who were slated to go to private schools this fall, the Administration has virtually assured that the vast majority of those 216 kids will be sent to demonstrably failing public schools where most kids DON’T stay in school. Is this a moral issue, now that the president has pulled the rug out from under these families, or is this just being viewed through a political lens at the White House?
3. A think tank that supports many of the President’s education proposals has said it was “morally wrong” to revoke the scholarships for the D.C. 216. So, is there any moral dilemma going on within the Administration right now regarding these low-income D.C. families and their inability to participate in the scholarship program? After spending $3 billion on “cash for clunkers” vouchers and with a new $5 billion discretionary fund at Secretary Duncan’s disposal, isn’t there a disconnect? Is the Administration saying to these children that they have to wait years for the system to improve?
4. Senator Lieberman, Senator Feinstein and a handful of other senators from both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation to extend the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. The D.C. school voucher program-whether the Administration likes vouchers or not-has gotten strong reviews from independent evaluators. Given that the Administration has said they’ll “fund what works, regardless of ideology,” would the President plan on signing this bill?
5. The Administration has refused to make ANY public comment on the Opportunity Scholarship Program. The President is a product of private school scholarships. The Secretary has stated publicly that he enrolled his children in higher-quality Arlington schools. Why should the Opportunity Scholarship Program be limited to existing children only? What about their siblings? Given the silence from the Administration, even as parents are protesting outside of the Department of Education, is it safe to say the Administration is just waiting these parents out and ignoring them in hopes they’ll go away? If so, isn’t this a bit unfair?
Dr. Murray is co-author with Evelyn Stacey of the IWF policy brief, “Down but Not Out in D.C.: Bi-Partisan, Bi-Cameral Efforts to Continue the Opportunity Scholarship Program” at www.iwf.org.