Kevin Chavous is an African American and former Democratic city council member from Washington, D.C. He says he’s an Obama supporter, but he is distinctly unhappy with the president. Elections may have consequences, but no one expected that the White House would be so brazenly petty as to allow poor minority children in the nation’s worst school district to become the victims of political score-settling.
That’s exactly what happened when the Obama administration killed off the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program several months ago. Of course, if the White House thought that it could pay off the powerful teachers’ unions, and that the 750 kids in the program would be powerless to fight back, they made a serious miscalculation. Though Afghanistan, the economy, health care, and many other issues have been sucking up all the national-media oxygen, the school-choice efforts on the ground and in D.C. and in the halls of the Congress have been incessant and unyielding since the program was abruptly terminated.
Chavous has made some strange friends in his quest to bring school choice back to D.C. On this particular evening, he’s gripping the podium at the Heritage Foundation — one of the conservative movement’s brain trusts — and expressing his frustration over a recent meeting he had with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“I said to him, ‘If you don’t get it, you don’t get it!’” Chavous recalls. What he finds particularly galling is that the president and education secretary’s decision to kill off the program flies in the face of the political values they pretend to stand for. In fact, the biggest names in D.C.’s school-choice battle are local politicians such as Chavous and parents such as Virginia Walden-Ford. Walden-Ford, who had a son in the program, is now executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice.
Now how does a president who started out as a community organizer in Chicago’s housing projects justify denying educational opportunities to students in D.C.’s housing projects? “The community organizer Barack Obama would have walked with these people,” observed Chavous. “The community organizer Barack Obama would have been standing with us. That’s what I told Duncan to go back and tell the president.”
Chavous wasn’t speaking at the Heritage Foundation just to throw stones at the White House. The school-choice movement in D.C. has set about winning hearts and minds. Chavous was there to introduce a 30-minute film produced in conjunction with Heritage that gives an overview of the issue. The film features NPR and Fox News correspondent Juan Williams and is expertly produced and deeply affecting — no mean feat considering that many aspects of school choice are highly technical.