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The Teachers' Unions that Stole Christmas

The school-choice program for D.C. schoolchildren may end sooner than expected.

11:00 PM, Dec 7, 2009 • By SHERYL BLUNT
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As Christmas grows closer, the hopes of thousands of D.C.
schoolchildren and their families are appearing dimmer and dimmer, and
no one is celebrating more than the teachers' unions.

Congress's failure to reauthorize the federally-funded D.C.
Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which has provided more than
3,300 schoolchildren scholarships to attend private schools of their
choice in the District of Columbia, has proven fatal. The program
could end even earlier than expected.

Last week the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF), the nonprofit
organization that administers the program, announced that Congress's
failure to act and the Obama administration's unwillingness to let new
students participate, means that the WSF will be forced to end its
oversight of the program this summer, when the school year ends.

"[E]xisting children and families in the OSP do not know whether
they will have access to an Opportunity Scholarship next year, and
children and families not now in the program do not know whether they
will have the opportunity to participate next year," the
organization's board of directors and president wrote in a December 3
letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "This makes it
virtually impossible for children, families, schools, and WSF to
prepare for the time-intensive application and renewal processes so
critical to the OSP's sound administration for the 2010-2011 school
year. Moreover, it denies these families any educational choice
because more often than not, charters are not an option."

Board members predict that the likely fallout will be private
school closures that will force many scholarship recipients and other
students back into the city's troubled public schools next fall,
"requiring the District to absorb the additional fiscal costs of
educating both groups of students."

"Effectively, Congress's failure to act to reauthorize this program
will send well over 1,000 children to failing and, too often, unsafe
schools," the letter states. "That result would, in our view,
constitute a moral failing of the highest order on all of our parts."

With less than a month left before Congress adjourns for its
holiday recess, supporters of the program had hoped that their latest
ad campaign and lobby effort would convince the Obama administration
and key Congressmen like Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. José
Serrano (D-N.Y.), that the voucher program needs to continue.

"This is the best opportunity kids can have," said Patricia
William, whose 12-year-old son Fransoir has used a scholarship to
attend a private school in the District since the program's inception
in 2004. "Congress has the power to make it happen."

Originally from El Salvador, William became a U.S. citizen in 1996.
She said an opportunity scholarship has given her and Fransoir what
she hoped to find in America.
"This country is about options and education, so give us options as
parents," she said. "Don't take away our right to help our kids,
especially when this program is working."

But in a November 23 commentary piece for the Washington
Post, Rep. Serrano, who chairs the House appropriations
subcommittee that oversees the embattled program's funding, reiterated
his opposition to letting any more low-income D.C. students benefit
from the expiring program. "This is as far as I can go," said Serrano.
"I do not support an expansion to include children not currently in
the program."

This slammed the door on efforts to resuscitate the program in the
House, and the Senate does not appear to have the votes it needs to
reauthorize the program.

"People are outraged," said Virginia Walden Ford, executive
director of D.C. Parents for School Choice. "It is morally wrong to
relegate these children to failing schools."

Archdiocese of Washington spokesperson Kathy Dempsey said seven
participating Archdiocese schools recently held meetings with parents
to discuss what it would mean if the program is not reauthorized soon.

"It's getting down to the wire and our schools and families need to
know what their options are," said Dempsey.