My friend Juan Williams gets righteously angry about just the right thing today- the Obama administration's killing of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship. Where's the hope and change, and the promise to do what works for kids?
In a politically calculated dance step the Obama team first indicated that they wanted the Opportunity Scholarship Program to continue for students lucky enough to have won one of the vouchers. The five-year school voucher program is scheduled to expire after the school year ending in June 2010. Secretary Duncan said in early March that it didn't make sense "to take kids out of a school where they're happy and safe and satisfied and learningâ€¦those kids need to stay in their school."
And all along the administration indicated that pending evidence that this voucher program or any other produces better test scores for students they were willing to fight for it. The president has said that when it comes to better schools he is open to supporting "what works for kids." That looked like a level playing field on which to evaluate the program and even possibly expanding the program.
But last week Secretary Duncan announced that he will not allow any new students to enter the D.C. voucher program. In fact, he had to take back the government's offer of scholarships to 200 students who had won a lottery to get into the program starting next year. His rationale is that if the program does not win new funding from Congress then those students might have to go back to public school in a year.
He does not want to give the students a chance for a year in a better school? That does not make sense if the students and their families want that life-line of hope.
Duncan's decision, of course, is calculated to make it much harder for voucher supporters to argue for a program that's already being dismantled. Duncan also made his decision to bar new students from the program after all of the deadlines for other options, such as switching to charter or out-of-area schools, had passed, thereby trapping students in the very schools they were trying to escape. Leave it to a Democratic administration to find a way to give these kids even fewer options than the public school system allows them to have.
But the fight is not over. Sens. Lieberman and Collins wrote a letter to Duncan asking him not to suspend the program until after Lieberman's committee has had a chance to hold hearings on the program and Congress has considered its reauthorization:
By preventing new scholarships from being awarded, you are effectively ending a program before Congress has had the opportunity to consider reauthorizing it. Therefore, we respectfully request that you consider reversing your decision.
As we noted in our letter to you, the future of the OSP is presently under consideration by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. We will be holding hearings on the program in May, and Majority Leader Reid has promised floor time to consider a reauthorization proposal. We respectfully request that you refrain from implementing significant changes to the program until we have an opportunity to review the program's results, hold public hearings, and have a thoughtful debate about the future of the program.