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Capitol Comment

Obama Throws 10,000 Students Under the School Bus

Yesterday President Obama unveiled his budget for 2013. The budget is filled with higher taxes and more spending, however something is missing, The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  This program grants educational opportunities to mostly poor and minority students in Washington D.C.  The Heritage Foundation reported that “[t]he D.C. OSP has been highly successful. According to federally-mandated evaluations of the program, student achievement has increased, and graduation rates of voucher students have increased significantly. While graduation rates in D.C. Public Schools hover around 55 percent, students who used a voucher to attend private school had a 91 percent graduation rate.” Not only has this program been effective, it was also cheap.  “[A]t $8,000, the vouchers are a bargain compared to the estimated $18,000 spent per child by D.C. Public Schools.”  Despite being cost effective and saving children from failing schools President Obama decided to play politics with the future of thousands of children in the District.  Better yet, President Obama violated the trust of his own constituents’, mainly inner city Democrats.

President Obama promised hope and change in 2008 and in just three years has managed to destroy the hope of thousands of D.C. children.  The question is: why?  Simple, President Obama was indebted to the teachers union.  When campaigning in 2008, President Obama earned the support of the nation’s two largest Unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.  These two groups are arguably the two most powerful special interests in the country.  With millions of dues paying members and budgets that rival that of some small countries they have some serious power.  For candidate Obama to earn their support he would have to show them just how loyal he could be.  This meant backing off anything remotely considered to be education reform.  Like 99.9 percent of Democratic candidates before him, Obama towed the union line saying American schools fail because they don’t have enough money.  This argument has proved false over and over yet the unions hold enough power that candidates live in fear of straying from this message, knowing it would be extremely dangerous to their campaigns.  Once he fell in lock-step with this message, the unions were his.

So what does this have to do with Obama’s budget?  The answer: everything!   2011 was dubbed by many: “The Year of School Choice” with tremendous victories for education reformers in states all over the country dealing huge hits to the educational establishment.  With all these successes it became only a matter of time before the teachers union would take notice and strike back.  The unions made their strike with Obama’s budget.  Not only did they get Obama to kill the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program but also achieved total education spending increases; a major blow to the school choice movement.  According to the Heritage Foundation: “The Department of Education’s budget will increase 3.5 percent if the proposal is enacted, continuing a failed trend of spending more taxpayer dollars through Washington on a myriad of programs with a poor track record.”  This increase is nothing more than a political stunt meant to appease the unions.  Obama’s education minions had a bad year in 2011 and they needed to right the ship.  What better a way to do this than to demand payback for all that support then in a re-election year? Obama knew if he didn’t act the teachers union wouldn’t back him in the 2012 election.  A funny side note, the NEA has already endorsed him, ignoring every single Republican candidate.  Knowing the power the unions carry Obama kissed the proverbial ring.  

The saddest part about this episode is not the politics, as many groups use bargaining power to move legislation, but rather the fact that those who suffer are innocent children.  Some 10,000 plus children, most of whom never had the opportunity to succeed, have been thrown out in the cold to fend for themselves in often dangerous and under performing schools. Many kids may have just literally seen their future evaporate into thin air.

If Obama was indeed the president of hope and change he would have stood up against these unions and fought for new and exciting education reform programs that produce results. Things like parental choice, charter schools or digital learning.   Obama towed the party line.   Obama should take a look at leaders like Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) or former D.C. Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhea who, despite outrageous odds, has managed to institute programs with a real success record; programs which have brought real hope and change!