Adding Another Obstacle for Low-Income DC Students to Overcome

Posted on April 20, 2009. Filed under: B. Hussein Obama's real record as a "reformer", InsideSTL.com Articles |

This article appeared on www.insidestl.com on April 13. Please visit www.insidestl.com and support their site. I would also like to thank them again for giving me a weekly forum.

In case any low-income kids in Washington DC were starting to take the “hope” message too seriously, the Obama administration is working to lower their expectations. The White House just hosted its annual Easter Egg Roll and, thanks to Obama, this year, low-income families had the lowest chances of participating in the event’s 195-year history. During the election, candidate Obama acknowledged that poor families don’t have equal online access. He said, “Every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m President.” Too bad he didn’t make good on this promise before Easter. Since the event started in 1814, Easter Egg Roll participants had to wait in line to secure their free tickets. No amount of political clout would allow anyone to circumvent standing in line. There were absolutely no exceptions. B. Hussein Obama decided to do away with the line this year and, instead, chose to distribute the tickets online. That’s right. He decided to use the internet, even though he campaigned on the issue of disproportionate online access for low-income families. As if this didn’t restrict certain socioeconomic classes’ access enough, as expected, scalpers got in on the action and pushed tickets even further out of reach for low-income children. The Washington Post reported that tickets were on Craigslist for as much as $50 apiece and The Politico said that “six tickets to the Easter Egg Roll went for $979.99 on eBay.” (With all of the shady campaign financing exposed during the election, it might be advisable to check out exactly who is collecting the money from the online sales.) However, the Easter Egg Roll snub is minor compared to the role Obama’s Department of Education (DOE) played in helping to kill the program that gives low-income Washington DC schoolchildren the chance to attend the same private schools that the President and many other Washington officials choose for their own children.

Since 2004, DC has run the Opportunity Scholarship Program which annually gives 1,714 students from low-income families earning less than $23,000 per year up to $7,500 for private school tuition. Ninety-nine percent of students receiving vouchers are minorities (90% black and 9% Hispanic.) The vouchers are distributed through a lottery system and the city receives an average of four applications for each available voucher.

Without the vouchers, these students’ only option is the dismal DC Public School System where about 69% of 4th graders read below basic skill levels, students consistently rank last nationally in both ACT and SAT scores, and approximately 42% of students end up dropping out. All of this poor performance comes despite the fact that DC spends approximately $15,000 for each student’s education which is 50% more than the national average and double the cost of a single voucher. The problems plaguing these public schools aren’t from a lack of funding. Instead, there is something fundamentally wrong which will require more than just tax dollars to resolve. Until a solution is found, no one can ethically deny any children an adequate education merely because their parents cannot afford to move to a better school district or pay private school tuition.  

Teachers’ unions oppose voucher programs which assist parents in finding alternatives to failing public schools. One of their main arguments claims that voucher programs only siphon precious tax dollars away from public schools. However, as discussed, DC’s public schools’ problems run much deeper than mere finances.

Unfortunately for low-income students, teachers’ unions donated $55,794,440 to politicians from 1990 to 2008, 96% of which went to Democrat politicians. This makes it more than a coincidence that Democrats usually line up on the same side of issues as the nation’s largest teachers’ unions. Senate Democrats followed this pattern when voting down the Republican proposal last March which would have guaranteed funding for the voucher program past the 2009 – 2010 school year.

During the election, Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that even though he was skeptical of vouchers, he wouldn’t allow his preconceived opinions to prevent him from supporting them if he saw proof that they were successful. Democrat Senator, Dick Durbin echoed Obama’s sentiment claiming that he wouldn’t support continued funding of the program without proof of effectiveness. This sounds reasonable, however, on April 3, Obama’s DOE released a Congress-mandated, peer-reviewed report on the voucher program. The evaluation compared test scores of students who received vouchers to those who entered the lottery but didn’t receive a voucher. It found that voucher recipients were reading 3.7 months ahead of non-voucher students and student subgroups showed 1/3 to 2 years of additional learning growth. Yet, even though Obama and Democrats claimed such information would be relevant to their decision, the report wasn’t released by the Administration until after the Senate Democrats had sealed the voucher program’s doomed fate. The Wall Street Journal reported that despite the fact that the DOE review was actually completed last fall, several months before the Senate’s mid-March vote, the report wasn’t released until April. The article also said, “We do know the Administration prohibited anyone involved with the evaluation from discussing it publically.” The DOE deliberately sat on this information until after the Senate finished debating and voting on the program.

If anyone can understand the value of a good education, it would be both B. Hussein and Michelle Obama. The President received a scholarship at age 10 which, combined with the hard work and sacrifice of his grandparents, allowed him to attend one of the most prestigious private schools in Hawaii. He has explained, “There was something about this school that embraced me, gave me support, and encouragement, and allowed me to grow and prosper.”  Michelle attended a very elite magnet high school with rigorous, highly competitive admission testing requirements in Chicago. Both he and Michelle received Ivy-League educations which led to degrees from Harvard Law School for them both. Being good parents, upon moving to DC, the Obama’s decided to enroll their own daughters in private schools instead of the troubled public schools. How can Obama allow his administration to play any part in denying low-income DC children access to the same types of institutions which he credits for his success?

Deroy Murdock of Human Events mentioned the famous quote from Albert Shanker, former American Federation of Teachers president which said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” In his autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, B. Hussein Obama wrote simply, “I owe those unions.” It seems that 1,714 disadvantaged DC school children just got a real world lesson about collective bargaining and political clout. Too bad they didn’t have anyone representing their interests sitting at the table.

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    Is this really a new type of politician? Or is the Obama machine just using politics as usual in their campaign?

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