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School Choice in D.C. Isn't About Politics, It's About the Kids

Posted By Rep. Joe Walsh On March 30, 2011 @ 11:00 am In Education | Comments Disabled

I’ve spent most of my life working to advance school choice — to give all parents the power to decide where their children go to school. Most Americans support this idea, but in reality only those parents with the financial means can decide where to send their kids to school, leaving many underprivileged families forced to send their kids to consistently failing public schools. Many of these struggling families live in the nation’s capital. Washington, D.C., is home to some of the most troubled public schools in the country.

Today the House of Representatives will vote on a bill to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — a program that provides low-income students with “expanded opportunities to attend higher performing schools in the District of Columbia.” Under pressure from special interest groups and the teachers unions, OSP was defunded in 2009 by the Obama administration and a Democrat-controlled Congress, despite the overwhelming evidence of its academic success.

Unlike most bills to hit the House floor, this is a bill both sides of the aisle have supported before. It’s not liberal or conservative. It’s about giving parents the power to decide where their kids go to school. It’s about putting kids before politics.

Since its inception in 2004, the OSP has been a huge success. Providing more than 3,300 kids with the opportunity to attend higher performing schools, the program touts a 91 percent graduation rate compared to the overall high school graduation rate of 55 percent found in the District. With 74 percent of D.C. residents supporting the program, its reauthorization should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the teachers unions, which tend to be more interested in protecting their benefits than in educating our children, are spending millions of dollars trying to bury this program permanently.

Many politicians, primarily Democrats, are being pressured by these teachers unions to oppose the bill. They know that school choice is just like the free market. Monopoly breeds mediocrity, and competition drives success. By introducing the pressures and incentives of the marketplace into education, currently failing schools will have to work harder to find innovative ways to help students succeed. It means the status quo just won’t cut it anymore — teachers in those schools are going to have to work harder to help their students succeed. Most importantly, the opponents of empowering parents know that if we continue to show giving parents this power works in D.C., it will be demanded in every city around the country. That’s what scares the teachers unions the most. That’s why they want to kill this program.

This isn’t about politics. This is about our kids. About giving future generations the education they will need to lead our great country into the future.


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