The Senate Armed Services Committee is considering a proposal to provide military families with tuition vouchers. The idea enjoys support in the military but the National Education Association (NEA) has mounted an attack in a letter to the Committee, part of its ongoing battle against educational choice.
Both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have militantly opposed the continuation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program which provides tuition vouchers to approximately 1700 students in the DC area. Parents clearly recognize the advantage of vouchers since the number of applicants last year far exceeded the number of available spots. And military families, who make great sacrifices for their country and are frequently on the move, could also benefit from such a choice program.
Patricia Davis, wife of Chief Master Sgt. James Davis of the 316th Wing, told the Committee that military families are often assigned to areas with low-quality schools, and that ‘“our kids’ education should not have to suffer because of military obligations.” Teacher unions ignore the needs of these students, and all others, in their ongoing battle to prevent competition, protect mediocrity, and distort the truth.
In the recent letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, for example, NEA Director of Government Relations Diane Shust and Manager of Federal Advocacy Randall Moody claim that, “the DC voucher pilot program, which is set to expire this year, has been a failure. In fact, over its five-year span, the pilot program has yielded no evidence of positive impact on student achievement.”
This claim flies in the face of Department of Education research that shows reading gains for certain subgroups and is at most inconclusive about the gains overall. Declaring the program “a failure” ignores these findings, and is especially troubling given that other voucher programs have shown marked success rates only four or five years after their inception. Since the DC program is only three years old, drawing any conclusions about success or failure should be postponed until students using the vouchers have had more time to profit from their enrollment in private schools.
Shust and Moody also warn that, “Voucher schools are permitted to maintain their admissions standards and can reject any public school student they choose. . . In contrast, public schools serve all students who come through their doors.” This argument ignores the reality that the same anti-discrimination laws govern private and religious schools.
The NEA letter falsely claims that public schools are open to all. In reality, students must attend the school in their neighborhood, regardless of its performance or safety. Since many of the highest performing public schools are in wealthy areas that most Americans cannot afford, many children are locked out of the best schools. Vouchers would allow all children to apply to all schools regardless of parental income or house location.
Teacher unions’ flimsy arguments should come as no surprise given the self-interested nature of union efforts to oppose school choice. The highly politicized nature of the debate on vouchers obscures what is really at stake. Until politicians put education and opportunity before lobbyists and special interests, students will remain victims of a system that forces them to stay in underperforming schools and denies them the education they deserve.
It is time for congressional leaders, President Obama, and Secretary Duncan to work together for choice so that all children have access to the same quality education their own children enjoy. Until that happens, America’s promise of equal opportunity for all will ring hollow.