When it comes to caring about education for low-income children, President Obama’s talk is cheap.
“The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough,” Obama said during his speech today at the Center for American Progress, “but the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty, because she lacks a decent education or health care or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us.”
It should – and it’s too bad it doesn’t actually offend Obama.
If the lack of a decent education available to low-income children truly offended him, Obama would support vouchers. No, vouchers aren’t some cure-all panacea that will result in every child becoming a straight-A dynamo student who achieves excellence at college or in a technical school post high school graduation. But they can help.
A 2010 Department of Education study found that the high school graduation rate for those D.C. students who won a voucher in the lottery was 91 percent. For those who didn’t win a slot, their graduation rate was a mere 70 percent. That’s a whopping 21-point difference.
Vouchers in Milwaukee have also had success in raising graduation rates. According a 2012 University of Arkansas evaluation of the Milwaukee voucher system, “these data indicate that [voucher] students were 4 percentage points more likely ever to have graduated from high school than were their [public school] counterparts.” Furthermore, “the voucher students also were 4 percentage points more likely to have enrolled in a four-year college or university than were similar [public school] students.”
Sure, bigger gains would be nice. But educational attainment levels produce a huge economic effect. The current unemployment rate for those who haven’t completed high school is 10.9 percent. For those who have graduated from high school, that number shrinks to 7.3 percent. And for those who have some college education, the rate is again lower: 6.3 percent. It also makes a huge difference in lifetime earnings: According to a 2012 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study, the median earnings of high school dropouts is $973,000. For high school graduates, that number is $1.3 million, and for those with some college (but not an associate’s degree), median earnings hit $1.55 million. And it just keeps going up.
Obviously then, vouchers – which allow low-income children to go to private school, as their wealthier peers can – can boost the future for low-income children.
Yet, instead of embracing them, the Obama administration has been notoriously opposed to vouchers. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Louisiana’s new voucher program in August, although it has since abandoned the suit. And in D.C. – where the specific program has definite graduation gains! – Obama’s administration has relentlessly worked against the voucher program, even after making a deal with Speaker John Boehner in 2012 to keep the program funded.
If Obama really wants to help low-income children – regardless of whether the teachers unions are on board or not — he should encourage vouchers nationwide.