Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

January 27, 2010

The Death of DC Scholarships – The Omen

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Robert @ 6:19 pm
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By Robert A. Teegarden

 Normally an optimist, I see sad times for America’s families and schools in the future, especially in the wake of this week’s decision by Congress to curtail the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). This during an administration dedicated to “change.”  One has to ask, change from what to what?

 According to OSP leaders, Kevin P. Chavous (former D.C. Councilman) and Virginia Walden Ford (executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice): “House and Senate Appropriators this week ignored the wishes of D.C.’s mayor, D.C.’s public schools chancellor, a majority of D.C.’s city council, and more than 70 percent of D.C. residents and have mandated the slow death of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. This successful school voucher program—for D.C.’s poorest families—has allowed more than 3,300 children to attend the best schools they have ever known.”

 These are sad, even dangerous times, because the values that built this American Republic are being turned on their head.  Leadership in the city of Washington, the Mayor, the public school chancellor, a majority of the city council said, “Continue the program.”  70% of the folks, the parents and residents of Washington said “Yes” as well. Yet congressional and administration leaders turned a deaf ear to the plight and plea of its citizens.  Granted, the city of Washington has a very unique relationship with Congress, in that a Federal agency is responsible for the funding of a municipality directly—since the people of Washington vote for no congressional leader, they’re no one’s constituents so no one feels obliged to listen to them.  But maybe that’s just the point. And maybe this is the clarion call to warn the rest of America of things to come in schooling.

 I don’t wish to wax doom and gloom, but the certain steps taken by the beltway boys and girls in these past several months suggests a very dangerous road ahead.  America’s schools and families will become the focal point around which those uniquely American values are further wrenched and tossed on the scrap pile of history.  The scrapping of the OSP program is only the opening salvo.

 It’s said that a culture develops and grows based on one of four principles: familial, principles/values, political, or economic. We are who we are because of how we value one another, what we believe and hold dear, who we know and what we know, or the trade-in value of our lives.  

 The closure of the DC Scholarship Program occurred not because of how we value one another.  If we did we wouldn’t simply ignore the voice of 70% of the community. The program wasn’t shut down because of any principles or beliefs. How do you argue with confirmed success, fiscal savings, and the moral roots to reason granted to these 3,300 kids?  The program didn’t “die” for economic reasons either; the program clearly saved money.  Congressional leaders could not find $50 million to gives kids hope and a chance to break the cycle of poverty in which find themselves. But they could find $3 billion for the Cash for Clunkers program (a bogus trade-in program to “simulate” the economy whose total costs outweighed all benefits by $1.4 billion).  No, it all came down to politics—the new American value.  Once again government leadership traded the well-being and success of kids for a works program for adults.  It seems like government schools were not built for kids. They seem to have been built to house adults.  When one examines the model on which they were built, maybe that was the intention all along.

 Educational choice was a root value at America’s birth.  The right to educate one’s own children was as sacred as the lives of those who died at Valley Forge.  Of course parents are the primary educators of their children. Of course parents can value and choose.  That’s why there’s absolutely no reference to education in the US Constitution.  Its authors presumed that this bedrock principle and practice was as obvious as a sunset.  Nothing need be said.  Not anymore. That all changed in the 19th century. And today’s Congress isn’t any better.

 So why worry?

 The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA—c. 1965) is due to be reauthorized in 2010.  This is the largest flow of federal dollars to the states (in some states it amounts to 10% of their annual budgets).  That reauthorization is going to be held over the heads of state leaders like a great Sword of Damocles to “urge” them to go the way of Congress, not their citizen-parents. Couple this with “stimulus” packages like the Race to the Top Program ($100 billion in competitive grants to states) and you have a pretty good picture of the pressure local public school leaders will be under to line up and comply with Washington.  After all, all we need is more money and we’ll get the job done.

 But what about parents and what about the kids?

 The Washington Scholarship Program was more than a grand experiment whose time was over.  It was a model program that worked.  It harkened back to an earlier time in America when a peoples’ voice would be heard and heeded, when statesmen voted based on principles not politics, and where the “change” that was the US Constitution guaranteed a parent the right to raise and educate their own children consistent with their values, not the state’s or government’s. Why, then, did Congress fail to reauthorize it?

 The changes I see on the horizon don’t look good.  Were private schoolers or home-schoolers involved in the Race to the Top program?  No. Did Congressional leaders listen to their concerns?  No.  Private school and home-school parents pay federal taxes.  Why shouldn’t federal tax dollars benefit their choice, their children too?

 ESEA has a long history of excluding benefits to kids in private schools and in obfuscating benefits to students when local programs fail.  Has anyone lost their job over these illegal acts?  No.  Has any local official been held accountable?  No.  This, then, is where the nightmare begins.

 How does a parent get satisfaction when the government monopoly doesn’t listen?  How can things change for the better when government bureaucrats are beholding not to the citizens who elected/appointed them but to a third party accountable to no one?  Where do you go to find transparency in government policies: local, state or national offices?

 The government monopoly has a union for its employees, a union for its leadership and immunity for its congressional leaders.  Maybe it’s time to find a union for parents; I think it used to be called a legislature.

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