I was reading a story in the Washington Post this morning by Moriah Balingit regarding how legislators in West Virginia gave in to the local teachers’ union after a half day strike, and removed legislation that would have created charter schools and education savings accounts for special education students. State Senate president Mitch Carmichael, according to Ms. Balingit, had this to say about the cowardly representatives:
“Comprehensive education reform that will improve student performance, provide parental choice and empower teachers is coming — because parents, taxpayers, and job providers want our broken public education system fixed now.”
West Virginia led the country a year ago by having the first strike by teachers for higher wages and benefits. This was followed by similar actions in other localities, most recently in Los Angeles. In many of these battles charter schools are cast as the villain even though all these institutions are doing is providing a quality education to those children who are currently not receiving one.
But if you followed the Washington Post editorial page commentary you would know extremely little about the lies being spread by unions across the nation about these alternative schools. This is too bad, since the Post used to one of the greatest proponents of educational freedom. Consider this 2008 piece in support of the Opportunity Scholarship Program:
“A minefield awaits Mr. Fenty as he prepares to testify tomorrow before a House appropriations subcommittee. President Bush’s budget includes an unprecedented $74 million to bolster education in the District, dividing the money along three pathways. Public schools would get a big chunk to undertake such initiatives as teacher ‘pay for performance’ and leadership training for principals. There would be money to replicate high-performing charter schools. And $18 million would go to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides grants for low-income children to attend private schools; it is this third purpose that’s expected to come under scrutiny, if not attack. A Republican-controlled Congress barely approved the program in 2004, and the Democrats who now rule the House are sworn enemies of vouchers. It doesn’t help that District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has been a fierce opponent.
We would hope that Congress would recognize certain truths. First, that the time for a rhetorical debate about this program has passed. There are 1,900 children enrolled — quite happily — in the program. What’s at stake is not a political point of honor but the opportunity for children to go to schools that work for them. Second, it’s a program that is supported by District leaders and embraced by their constituents. A measure of its popularity is how demand for the scholarships outstrips capacity. It’s encouraging that the House subcommittee on financial services and general government, which will hold the hearing, is chaired by Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), a true believer in the importance of home rule.
Of all the arguments against vouchers, the most pernicious is that they hurt public schools. Never mind that D.C. public schools benefit financially from the funding formula. Public schools failed long before vouchers were even conceived of, and no less an authority than D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee dismisses that argument out of hand. As she told the Wall Street Journal, ‘I would never, as long as I am in this role, do anything to limit another parent’s ability to make a choice for their child. Ever.’ Let’s hope Congress feels that same compunction.”
We desperately need some of this bravery today. There are currently so many challenges facing our local charter movement, such as the lack of facilities and inequitable funding compared to the traditional schools, in which we could really use their help. D.C.’s charters, that are successfully closing the academic achievement gap for the first time in the history of public education and that are keeping kids out of prison and alive, are being criticized almost daily regarding the need to comply with FOIA requests and opening up board meetings to the public. But these arguments, along with the comments that charters are public schools that are privately run controlled by the dollars of millionaires, are perfectly identical to those that were offered when private school vouchers were first introduced. They are being foisted upon us for one reason only; to protect the status quo so that unions can maintain control over the public school bureaucracy.
It is time for editors of the Washington Post to point out the false statements by those against school choice, and to shine a bright light on the singular motivation behind their claims.