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Making the Grade

The president speaks frankly about D.C. schools but forgets about one program that could've been saved.

4:40 PM, Sep 28, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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It really isn't news that President Obama thinks his daughters will get a better education at the Sidwell Friends private school than at a local public institution. But when he talks about the "heartbreaking" scenes of parents with children who don't get admitted to charter schools in Waiting for Superman, he seems to forget about the one that once existed in his backyard. But the Washington Post's Jo-Ann Armao didn't forget:

I couldn't help but think of the 216 parents in D.C. who know that bitter truth better than the president. They are the low-income parents whose children would have gone to private schools had the Obama administration not cut the legs out from under the city's federally-funded school voucher program.

Started in 2004, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship provided vouchers of up to $7,500 to low-income, mostly minority children for private-school tuition. Democrats never liked the program and—egged on by the teachers unions—made the program's demise a top priority. Congress moved to cut off funding, and the Obama administration went right along, deciding in the spring of 2009 to rescind scholarships that had been promised to 216 families. The president subsequently agreed to let students already enrolled in private schools under the voucher program to continue their educations until high school graduation, but the 216 were shut out, and the program was closed to new students.

The president gets a lot of credit for focusing important attention on education and for empowering Education Secretary Arne Duncan to pursue aggressive school reform. But his disappointing decision on vouchers runs counter to his promise to do only what makes sense for children.

At another point in the interview, Obama was asked about the parents featured in the new documentary, "Waiting for Superman," who lose in lotteries for coveted spots in charter schools. "Oh, it's heartbreaking. And when you see these parents in the film, you are reminded that, I don't care what people's income levels are, you know, their stake in their kids, their wanting desperately to make sure their kids are able to succeed is so powerful—and it's obviously difficult to watch to see these kids who know that this school's going to give them a better chance—and that should depend on the bounce of a ball," he said.

Lucky for Obama that director Davis Guggenheim wasn't around to film the 216 parents when their hopes were snatched away.

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