Washington Post editorial board takes 20 year U-turn on private school vouchers

A potentially dangerous change in opinion by the Washington Post editorial board revealed itself the other day in a column entitled, “The Supreme Court is eroding the wall between church and state.” The piece was decrying the United States Supreme Court’s decision regarding Washington State high school football coach Joseph Kennedy, who once led religious prayers at the fifty yard line after games. The Post editors commented on the court’s finding in Mr. Kennedy’s favor this way:

“A conservative Supreme Court majority is redefining the constitutional order — dismissive of Americans’ privacy rights, committed to dangerous pro-gun dogmas and, as the court showed twice this month, alarmingly permissive of mixing religion and government.”

It is not the newspaper’s opinion on Kennedy v Bremerton School District that I find worrisome. It is the concluding paragraph in its editorial that generates concern:

“Along with another court decision earlier this month, in which the justices ordered the state of Maine to finance tuition at religious schools under a statewide voucher program, the majority appears determined to rule in favor of those seeking to use government resources to advance their religious beliefs — and against those who object to dismantling the wall between church and state.”

Now, here is the problem. The United States Supreme Court has been a defender of the right of parents to utilize private school vouchers in sectarian institutions beginning in 2002, with Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the case in Cleveland, Ohio won by Clint Bolick when he worked for the Institute for Justice. Before that ruling was issued the editorial board made this argument:

“In principle, there is no reason why a carefully designed voucher program should offend the Constitution. The money is given to parents, not directly to schools, and it flows to schools only as a function of parental choices about where to send their children. In this sense, vouchers are not all that different from other programs the court has already upheld — though approving them is a step the justices have not previously taken. The key is for the justices to avoid using a broad principle that would allow more direct aid to parochial schools.”

The Post started writing editorials supporting school choice programs involving religious schools following my meeting with columnist Colbert King in the summer of 1999 in which I asked him to publicly argue in favor of a private school voucher plan for the District of Columbia. Mr. King was the deputy editorial page director from 2000 to 2007. This backing was critically important since public policy makers, include Supreme Court Justices, often read the Washington Post. The role of this newspaper in the national fight for increased school choice was recognized by Mr. Bolick in his book Voucher Wars in the aftermath of the Post editors coming out in opposition the the Milwaukee school voucher program:

“And only a few years later, the Post abandoned its reticence and became one of the nation’s most consistent and influential backers of school choice experiments,” (page 58).

The newspaper has stayed the course for two decades. Last year, the editorial board wrote one of its strongest defenses of school choice reacting to Congressional attempts to shutdown Washington D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program in a piece entitled, “Why are unions and Democrats so opposed to giving poor children a choice in schooling?” Please pay careful attention to the reference to religious schools.

“It is striking how some foes of the scholarship program — and here we think of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) — see no inconsistency in their opposition to this program and their support for the $40 million DC Tuition Assistance Grant program, which provides funds for college. Like the opportunity scholarship program, DC TAG can be applied to private schools in the metropolitan area, including religious schools, but unlike the opportunity scholarship program, wealthy families (with incomes up to $515,000) are eligible. Where is the logic in supporting a tuition assistance program available to affluent D.C. families and not one that only benefits very low-income D.C. families? To be sure, the quality of the city’s public schools has improved since the program was enacted — perhaps in part due to competition from school choice — but that doesn’t mean that poor parents deserve no choice in where their children go to school.”

The Washington Post’s editorial board’s recent missive on the U.S. Constitution’s separation between church and state is potentially an extremely menacing precedent.

Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss completely misrepresents upcoming U.S. Supreme Court school choice decision

Last week, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote one of her “Answer Sheet” columns that was titled “Supreme Court Likely to Drop School Voucher Bombshell.” Ms. Strauss is referring to the case Carson v. Makin which will be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month. Here is a summary of the case: Maine issues educational scholarships to children to attend private schools when there is no local public school in the area in which they live. However, it prevents these vouchers from being used at religious institutions because the State believes it would then be violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Post reporter goes into hysterics to describe what would happen if the court decides in favor of the parents:

“In Carson v. Makin, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court is likely to require Maine officials to use public funding to subsidize religious teaching and proselytizing at schools that legally discriminate against people who don’t support their religious beliefs. A ruling in favor of the families would ‘amount to a license to outsource discrimination,’ according to Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education.”

She goes on:

“Welner also wrote that a ruling against the state could affect charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. A Carson ruling in favor of the families may mean that states could be seen as ‘engaging in discrimination if they did not allow a church or religious entity to operate a publicly funded charter school as a religious school.’”

I was not exaggerating, was I? There are just three problems with her reasoning. The Supreme Court now has a perfectly consistent record of allowing public funds to go to religious institutions when they are providing a public function.

Year 2002: The Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that parents could utilize private school vouchers to send their children to religious schools. The logic behind this finding was that the money for educating the students is going to the parents, not to support the school.

Year 2017: The Supreme Court ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., vs. Comer that funds Missouri was providing to enhance playgrounds at public schools could not be prevented from going to private religious institutions. As I pointed out at the time, the majority opinion stated that, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.” 

Year 2020: The Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that a Montana tuition school tax credit program could be utilized for children to enroll in parochial schools. In my post about this decision I included Chief Justice John Roberts’ comment that “The application of the no-aid provision discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution.”

So now we have Carson. If history is any guide, then the Court will find in support of the Maine parents. By the way, this case, as well as Espinoza and Zelman were all argued by the libertarian Institute for Justice. Here comes another victory for this highly impressive group.

One final point. I have no problem with a charter school having a religious mission. I made the same argument when Center City PSC was created from the conversion of six Catholic schools. I have no doubt that the Supreme Court would support my point of view.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donates $200 million to charter schools

A couple of days ago Cayla Bamberger of the New York Post revealed that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg granted two charter networks, Success Academy PCS and Harlem Children’s Zone PCS, $100 million each in order to help them grow to accept more students. The money is only the beginning of Mr. Bloomberg’s investment in these alternative schools. His goal is to spend $750 million nationwide. The former Mayor told the Post:

“I don’t know that 30 years from now, when they don’t have the kind of life that we’d want for them you can explain to them what happened and why we were asleep at the switch.”

My point exactly. The pandemic has created a magnificent opportunity for charters. I do not understand why pro-charter organizations are not buying up vacant office buildings to house schools. I’m sure there are great deals to be had in the current marketplace. Is there no one in D.C. who will be embarrassed in 30 years that they did not act when they had the chance?

The DC Public Charter School is currently on a year-long pause for considering new schools and the expansion on existing ones. This needs to end now with the result being that it is simpler for new charters to open and easier to add more seats for those that are already operating.

I found interesting that the Washington Post’s Perry Stein found the need in her recent story about D.C. middle schools to talk about Mayor Bowser’s view of the expansion of the charter sector. The reporter wrote:

“While charter schools are independent, the mayor can have a role in shaping the sector and the Bowser administration has been considered charter-friendly. Bowser appoints the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which authorizes which charter schools can open and which must close for low-performance. She said she speaks with all her appointees about the need to approve only charters that address an unmet need in the city.”

Ms. Stein contradicts herself. She claims that charters are independent yet simultaneously points out that they are overseen by the PCSB whose members are selected by the Mayor. But this is slightly off topic. I just love the quote that Ms. Stein includes in the article from past charter board chair Rick Cruz regarding the growth of charters while many DCPS school are under enrolled.

“It means little to us and even less to many D.C. families to hear that there are thousands of seats in many schools that boast poor academic results.”

Right on! It is now time to wake up from our Covid-19 lull. Come on Mr. Bloomberg, District charters are ready to accept your cash. Who else is out there that wants to pitch in?

Membership on the D.C. charter board dwindling

Last evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board started strangely. Long-term member and previous vice chair Saba Bireda announced that this was her last meeting. Also on the Zoom broadcast for a short period was Naomi Shelton. She revealed that her last meeting was actually the August session. She had joined just to say her farewells. Both individuals received accolades from the remaining members of the board.

Recall that last June during a D.C. Council oversight hearing on the charter sector, Chairman Mendelson asked whether DC PCSB chair Rick Cruz and executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis were aware of Mayor Muriel Bowser naming a replacement board member for Steve Bumbaugh whose term had ended, and whether she intended to renew the term of Ms. Shelton. Neither had any information. Now here we are at the end of September with Ms. Bireda having to step down apparently because she has accepted a position with the federal government that conflicts with her PCSB service and, as I postulated three months ago, Ms. Shelton will not get a second appointment to the board. This leaves the charter board with only four members. I cannot recall a time in the approximately twenty-five year history of the PCSB that the number of members has dropped so low.

I do not know if it is the impact of this terrible pandemic or the lack of support for his body from D.C.’s chief executive, but chair Rick Cruz appeared dejected. Or it could have been due to a general lack of enthusiasm by the populace for the charter movement as a whole. For also on this night, Ms. Walker-Davis announced that her organization is in the midst of reviewing the application process for new schools and for replication. Of course, this evaluation is long overdue, and I have called for years to make it simpler both for charters to open and grow. Charter school expansion has been much too bureaucratic. However, I was shocked to hear that because of this deliberation no new charter applications will be accepted until the 2023 cycle and all existing schools will also be prevented from adding additional grade levels until that time. Charter amendments for expansion of student ceiling limits will still be entertained. It felt to me that perhaps we should simply end this entire experiment in school reform.

Or maybe it already has stopped. Earlier in the day the Mayor mandated that all school employees and contractors, no matter what their role, will now have to vaccinated against Covid-19, without an option to skip the shot and be tested. This is something Rocketship PCS, Perry Street PCS, and Monument Academy PCS adopted weeks ago and a mandate that the charter movement should have led as it used to proudly set high standards. The DC Charter School Alliance went along with the move with founding executive director Shannon Hodge stating, “Charter school leaders and the DC Charter School Alliance are prepared to work together with Mayor Bowser, DC Public Schools, and DC Health to ensure we provide safe spaces to learn and adequately protect students and staff in the fight against COVID-19.” Really, what else could she say at this point?

As if all of this was not depressing enough, WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reported last week that eleven charter schools have agreed to include an admission preference for at-risk students. The ability to offer this preference was granted to charters by the D.C. Council in 2020, and is in addition to admission preferences that include siblings of existing enrolled students, children of school employees, and special education students. As a school choice purist, I am fine with the admission advantage for siblings and employees but I stop there. In the most simple terms I do not believe anyone should be discriminated against when trying to gain a seat at these schools. The answer for charters wanting a greater proportion of at-risk students is to open more campuses that can serve these scholars, especially if we can accomplish this by taking over failing traditional schools. It is what we should have been doing for years.

Last month I observed a brief spark in our local charter ecosystem and I was hoping this was the start of a flame. It looks like the match has burned out.

Mayor Bowser takes first step in charterizing all D.C. public schools

Last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her choice to replace Hanseul Kang as the State Superintendent of Education. Ms. Bower’s selection is Christina Grant, who oversaw the charter school sector in Philadelphia. 68,364 students attend charters in Philadelphia across 68 schools representing 36.4 percent of city’s public school students. In Washington D.C. there are 66 charter schools located on 125 campuses educating 43,795 pupils. The Mayor’s press release on the nomination of Ms. Grant say this about her qualifications:

“She recently served as the Chief of Charter Schools and Innovation for The School District of Philadelphia, she oversaw a budget of more than $1 billion and a portfolio of both district and charter schools. In this capacity, Dr. Grant managed a complex organization, working closely with the Superintendent of Schools and the President of the Board of Education and Mayor’s Chief Education Officer. Dr. Grant’s career began as a public school teacher in Harlem; since then, she’s held numerous roles in education, including as Superintendent of the Great Oaks Foundation and Deputy Executive Director at the New York City Department of Education.”

Not mentioned in Ms. Bowser’s statement is that Ms. Grant was a teacher in New York City for a KIPP public charter school and that her role as executive director in New York City Public Schools involved managing the process for the opening of new charters. Following her stint with NYC schools, she moved on to become executive director of NYCAN, a New York City-based charter advocacy organization.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Ms. Grant received training at the Broad Academy, a pro-charter educational leadership program that is now run by Ms. Kang at Yale University. Ms. Stein mentions that D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and Chancellor Lewis Ferebee also attended the Broad Academy.

When schools in the nation’s capital finally reopen fully in the fall I expect that Ms. Grant, in her effort to bring equity in education to all District students, will fight to expand the charter sector by replacing failing DCPS facilities with schools of choice.

Consistent with our efforts in public education to provide a quality seat to any child who needs one is an expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the federal private school voucher program in our city. But there are storm clouds on the horizon regarding the plan. D.C. Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton announced that as part of President Biden’s proposed budget he supports “winding down” the scholarships. Here Mr. Biden is following in the muddy footsteps of his idol Barack Obama, who stopped new entrants from participating in the O.S.P. when he was President, directly hurting students living in poverty. I think suggesting to make this move after a year of remote learning is especially heartless and cruel.

One more thought for today. When I tuned into the May monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board I noticed that Steve Bumbaugh was not present. It turns out that his term had expired. I will greatly miss Mr. Bumbaugh’s presence on the board. His observations and comments were always insightful. He was an especially strong advocate for those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder in Washington, D.C. Mr. Bumbaugh had a profound appreciation of the nature of school choice, and gave great deference to the opinions of parents as to whether a school under review should be allowed to continue operating.

His absence leaves a critical vacancy on the board.

Mayoral control did not fix D.C.’s public schools

Yesterday, the editors of the Washington Post came out strongly against the suggestion by At-Large Councilmember Robert White that a committee be created to study the governance structure of D.C. public schools. They say that the move had one motive and that is to return DCPS to an arrangement in which it reports to the school board. In their piece the editors point out that Mr. White ran on the notion of ending Mayoral control. They wrote:

“Here is what is important: There has been undeniable progress in the city’s schools since mayoral control was instituted. A school system that was once unable to pay its teachers and ensure that buildings were ready for the first day of school has been completely transformed. There have been increases in student achievement across all student groups, and the national report card, the gold standard of testing, has shown D.C. to be one of the fastest improving systems in the country. Additionally, there is a flourishing public charter school sector that offers worthy choices to parents. There is no question that there is still much more to be done. Far too many children can’t read or do math, and the achievement gap between students of color and their White peers persists; new urgency is needed in addressing these challenges.”

But here is where the Post editors are confused. The improvement in the traditional schools had nothing to do with who was in charge. The tremendous change in DCPS came due to competition from the charter sector. I know, because I watched all of this take place being an active participant as a charter school volunteer tutor, board member, and through my coverage of the movement.

Just to recap. As soon as the first charter school opened parents rushed to place their children in these facilities. Their decision was not primarily to provide their offspring with a better education, although that was a consideration. The driving concern was over the safety of their sons and daughters. The regular schools were routinely filled with gang members, drugs, and weapons. As I’ve written many times, it was often safer during this period to keep your kids home than to send them to the neighborhood schools.

As more charters opened, DCPS lost more of its pupils. Those of us who believe in school choice were waiting for DCPS to react, since funding was tied to how many students a school taught. Shockingly, it took DCPS losing more than twenty-five percent of its enrollment before we saw the election of Mayor Fenty over his campaigning on a promise to fix the schools. He brought Mayoral control, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and modernization of school buildings that really should have been condemned due to their poor physical condition.

The Washington Post editors do get something perfectly right. There is much more work that needs to be done. This is why I’m struggling. If charters are what caused all schools to increase in quality, then why not have more of them? Will the editors heed my call to turn traditional schools over to the sector that has driven academic standards to soar? Why don’t we allow the competition for students to permanently close the academic achievement gap?

Again, as I’ve written on numerous occasions, now is the perfect opportunity to make such a dramatic change. Schools are mostly closed and trying to figure out how to reopen. Let’s give the regular schools the freedom and opportunity to re-cast themselves as a new version of themselves by offering them self-governance. I concur strongly with the Washington Post editor’s closing statement: “new urgency is needed in addressing these challenges.”

U.S. Supreme Court gives school choice greatest victory in 18 years

Yesterday, in its final day of the current term, the United States Supreme Court, in a five to four decision, ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that a school tuition tax credit program in Montana should have been allowed to include religious schools as recipients of the scholarships. The program was shuttered by the Montana Supreme Court because it permitted parents to send their children to sectarian schools as well as those that are nonreligious.

The finding of the court, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, could not have been clearer:

“The application of the no-aid provision discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution.”

In other words, the failure to allow parents to enroll their children in a religious school interfered with their free exercise of religion.

It is the most important U.S. Supreme Court decision since Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002. In that case, the Court found that the inclusion of religious schools in a Cleveland private school voucher plan did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Zelman was a tremendous and hard-fought victory for school choice, and like Espinoza, was argued by the libertarian Institute for Justice. But there was also a tremendous difference between the two legal actions.

Cleveland’s state constitution does not include a Blaine Amendment, language contained in 37 state constitutions that prohibit taxpayer funds from going to religious schools. Here is what I wrote about Blaine Amendments last January when the U.S. Supreme Court head arguments in Espinoza and I predicted the eventual decision would be a victory for educational freedom:

“The heart of the today’s argument will revolve around the concept of the Blaine Amendment. Blaine Amendments were included in the constitution of 37 states in the 19th century. During this period, schools were dominated by Protestants and there was a rejection of the new wave of Catholic immigrants to this country. Blaine Amendments are named after U.S. Senator Blaine who in 1875 attempted to get a constitutional amendment passed mirroring those that were later adopted in state constitutions preventing public money going to religious institutions. Public schools at the time were already religious, according to the I.J., teaching nondenominational Protestant ideas. Catholics sought to influence the nature of instruction taking place in schools, and when that effort failed, sought funding for their own educational institutions.”

Blaine amendments have been used time and time again in the past to invalidate school choice plans that have allowed parents to pick religious schools. Now that this decision has come down and Blaine Amendments invalidated, look for the floodgates of private school choice programs to open widely across the country.

The Washington Post, as it has done since I met with former editorial page director Colbert King in 1999, again came out strongly in favor of the Supreme Court’s reasoning:

“We think there is value in, and have supported, programs that — like the one envisioned by Montana lawmakers and D.C.’s successful Opportunity Scholarship Program — help low-income parents afford a choice in their children’s education, a choice that parents empowered with the economic means exercise by moving to a particular school district or sending their children to private school. It is important to remember that the scholarship goes to the child, and that the child’s family then decides which school best meets the needs of individual students. Schools that participate in these programs must meet academic requirements established by the state or locality, and some religiously affiliated schools have proved successful in boosting student achievement, attendance and civic engagement.

Ms. Espinoza chose Stillwater Christian School not because she wanted to advance its interests but because she wanted a school that fit her daughters’ needs and was a place where they could thrive. They — and other students who stand to benefit from opportunities opened up — are the true winners.”

In the midst of a pandemic, severe economic strife, and racial unrest, we can smile for a moment over the Supreme Court’s decision. It is possible that in the future there will be other wranglings over the constitutionality of programs that allow parents to pick the school of their choice for their children. But there will never be one as significant as Espinoza.

As we approach the Independence Day Fourth of July celebration, freedom just won a great triumph.

The fight for educational equity is not over

I’m inspired this morning by the words of my friend Virginia Walden Ford, the woman who became the symbol of the fight for private school vouchers for disadvantaged children in Washington, D.C. Below I reprint her Facebook post from yesterday:

I am a Black Woman. I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. When my father, William Harry Fowler, was named as the first Black Assistant Superintendent of the Little Rock School District in the late 60’s, “they” burned a cross in our yard and threw a rock through our window. From that point forward, I can say that I have seen and experienced racism my entire life.

Systemic racism is rooted deeply in America and, therefore, cannot easily be corrected. For many of us who have spent a lifetime fighting for racial justice, this is a moment of reckoning that has eluded us for far too long.

I read this today and was inspired.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”…James Baldwin- from The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (2010)

Therefore, I believe that for any change to occur, that it absolutely must be faced. That is why I am happy to see young people taking to the streets to exercise their constitutional right to protest. The world needs to know that BLACK LIVES MATTER. Seeing their faces in protest means America MUST face the issues that have been prominent in our lives far too long.

I have been fighting for justice for a long time, longer maybe than many of the young people who are out protesting have been alive. In all of those years of activism, I have learned about the power of love and the power of hope. Even in times of great struggle, it is important that we do not forget love or lose hope. We can make the world better, but only if we work together. When we come together as people of all races, sexes, and creeds we create change.

When we were fighting for educational opportunities for the young people of Washington, D.C., people tried to divide us. Well, first they tried to dismiss us, and when they could not do that, they tried to defeat us, and when they could not do that, they tried to divide us. It is important that the people fighting for justice today remember the lessons that we learned then. Do not let the most extreme voices define you. Stay true to yourselves. Find people who want to help and work with them. Forgive. Be kind. But fight HARD for what is right and never give up.

I am not done fighting for educational opportunities for kids. I am inspired by the young people making their voices heard. They give me hope for a better world. Let us get to work making this happen.

#BLACKLIVESMATTER

Blessings,
Virginia Walden Ford

We can never be done fighting for educational opportunities for kids. I may be overly optimistic, but I believe that if we had figured out how to close the academic achievement gap years ago we would not have seen the pandemic kill so many in the Black community. If we had solved the challenge of providing all children a quality education independent of their zip codes then the economic damage we are witnessing today would not have fallen so much harder on minorities.

We know the right thing to do when it comes to public education reform. We must provide quality seats to all students in whatever form that takes, private school vouchers, charter schools, or traditional ones. But we must act now. This should be the lesson from current events.

High COVID-19 death rate in D.C.’s Wards 5, 7 and 8 was predictable, just look at academic achievement gap

Fully eighty percent of those who have passed away from the Coronavirus in the District of Columbia are black. Almost all of these cases involve individuals who live in Wards 5, 7, and 8, the poorest areas of the city.

The news has been flooded with stories explaining that those with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to passing away from the disease. Medical experts and social scientists have also known for years that when people live in poverty their environment is characterized by negative social determinants of health that lead to the chronic illnesses that are now contributing to the demise of these individuals. Adverse Childhood Events also plague this population, and having a high number of ACE’s has been shown to be a precursor to the development of serious maladies.

It is all one horrific circle, one that starts from the time kids come onto this Earth. Perhaps the first real indicator of the problem is the three-year-old boys and girls that come into our schools already academically behind. The gap in knowledge between white students and minority pupils in the nation’s capital is 60 points. It is perhaps the largest in the country, and is a span that despite twenty-five years of public education reform has not budged.

I have written time and time again about our need to take this achievement gap deadly seriously. Until we ensure that all students receive a quality education, we will never break the cycle that is now taking away the future from our neighbors. We must ensure that those brave souls who create schools serving the most at-risk students have the financial support and other resources that can reverse the situation for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

There are numerous charter schools that have taken on this challenge. But there are so many obstacles in their way that it is a miracle that their visionary leaders don’t run the other way. Some of these blockades are put in place by our city leadership in the form of the inequitable funding that charters receive compared to the traditional schools. Another challenge is the severe lack of permanent facilities that our Mayor will not talk about while ignoring a chorus of pleas to turn over vacant DCPS buildings. Our own charter board contributes to the issue through bureaucratic oversight of existing schools and those groups that want to create new classrooms.

Until we are serious about closing the academic achievement gap we will never eliminate the health gap that we are experiencing for all to see today. There are no words to describe the horror of the current situation.

However, I’m an eternal optimist so I believe something good can come out of this tragedy. Someone out there could decide that enough is enough. One person can still change the world.

2020 Presidential election is turning into a missed opportunity to improve civil rights of children

The other day I was emailing with Joel Klein, the first Chancellor of New York City School under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The conversation brought me back to his tremendous 2014 book, “Lessons of Hope.” He wrote:

“The issue of poverty and its effect on our ability to educate kids dominates the contemporary debate on school reform and improvement. From the day I became chancellor, many people told me, “You’ll never fix education in America until you fix poverty.” I’ve always believed the reverse is true: we’ll never fix poverty until we fix education. Sure, a strong safety net and support programs for poor families are appropriate and necessary. But we’ve recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, and it seems fair to say that we must seek new approaches as our problems increase.

Safety-net and support programs can never do what a good education can; they can never instill in a disadvantaged child the belief that society can work for for him in the same that it works for middle- and upper-class children. it is the sense of belonging-the feeling that the game is not rigged from the start-that allows a child to find autonomy, productivity, and ultimately, happiness. That’s what education did for me. And that’s why, whenever I talk about education reform, I like to recall the wise, if haunting, words of Frederick Douglass, himself a slave, who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair men.”

This election cycle it feels like we have given up trying to build strong children. The subject of public education is rarely mentioned, even though the last civil rights struggle in this country is being able to provide an excellent public education for everyone no matter their socioeconomic status. On the national stage Democratic candidates, if they talk about schools at all, make sure to broadcast their opposition to charters.

Even Mr. Bloomberg, who during his tenure as New York City’s chief executive drove enrollment in charters from 4,442 students in 18 schools to 183 charters serving 71,422 students, said this the other evening about the issue during the Presidential Democratic debate: “I’m not sure they’re appropriate every place.”

It’s all terribly discouraging. With academic proficiency rates across the country in the thirty percent range, an achievement gap between affluent and poor that only continues to rise, and stagnant national standardized test scores, no one is offering a blueprint to reinvent what is clearly not working.

Well, I’m not running for office and no one has asked my opinion but I will provide one anyway.

We desperately need to eliminate the top-down bureaucratic nature of teaching kids. Elected representatives must introduce school choice plans that impact as many children as possible as quickly as possible. These would include private school vouchers, educational savings accounts, tax credit scholarships, or charter schools. I’m completely agnostic about the specific structure, I just know that we need to immediately introduce competition for students that will drive all educational delivery systems to improve.

We say that our goal is to provide a quality seat to every student who need one. But we have been saying this for 25 years now.

Here in the nation’s capital we must greatly increase the number of charters. But first, so that they have a place to open, we need to pass a law that states that any approved charter or replicated campus gets the right to a permanent facility.

I’m done begging Mayor Muriel Bowser for buildings. I see the answer in the courts. Let’s teach her a lesson that no matter your position of power you cannot skirt the law. Hasn’t she said exactly the same thing about the President?

Here’s the bottom line. I’m out of patience and I’m completely frustrated. If you are a parent trying to get your child into a quality school in this city and you find out that there is a wait list of 2,000 kids, then the only option you have is to move. For most families, relocation is not possible.

Is this what we want for our town?

I’m done with the leaders who state they care about public education. They do not.