This afternoon, more than 1,000 students, parents, and concerned citizens gathered across from city hall to rally in support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. A number of prominent D.C. leaders spoke, including former mayor Anthony Williams and former councilmember Kevin Chavous. But the most moving speeches were from the parents and students participating in the scholarship program. High-school student Carlos Battle spoke about how he was personally working to redefine the image of the black teen in Washington, D.C. — and how the Opportunity Scholarship program was giving him a chance to fulfill his dream. A father of a scholarship student pointed out the hypocrisy of Congress bailing out failing corporations but taking scholarships away from D.C. students.
The rally was held on Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the D.C. City Council. The gathering was focused on encouraging D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and the City Council to join the fight for continuing the scholarship program. Of course, parents and students also were hoping that their voices were heard two blocks away at the White House.
The Obama administration has promised to “fund what works” in education. But so far they have stood by quietly — allowing liberals on Capitol Hill to end the scholarship program. A few weeks ago, after a new report was released showing that D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program was improving students’ reading scores, Secretary Arne Duncan’s Department of Education sent letters to D.C. parents informing them that their children were no longer eligible for scholarships. These families, who recently applied to enter the program, had recently been told that their students had received a scholarship.
But the Washington Post reports that the administration will now call for the scholarship program to be continued for students who are currently participating. If this happens, it will avoid the p.r. disaster of seeing disadvantaged children, including two of the Obama children’s classmates, pulled from their private schools. But it will deny current and future D.C. families the same power that President Obama and Secretary Duncan take for granted.
If the purpose is to “fund what works,” why shouldn’t more kids be given the opportunity to participate in a program that has proven to improve the reading achievement of disadvantaged kids? To paraphrase Virginia Walden Ford of D.C. Parents for School Choice at today’s rally, we shouldn’t be satisfied until all families — regardless of background — can choose a quality school for their children.