Educational Choice for the Obamas: What About Others?

Where will the Obama kids attend school in Washington? That question has been answered as it should be: by the new president and first lady.

There is no argument about that. Sasha and Malia will attend Sidwell Friends School—private, religious, and pricey—on average around $28,000 per year. In Chicago, they attended the University of Chicago Lab school, private also.

The more important question is: Will the parents of the approximately 2,000 D.C. kids who have been recipients since 2004 of congressionally provided voucher grants under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) continue to have a choice of schools like the Obamas? If Obama, the Democrats, and Eleanor Holmes Norton (Delegate to Congress from D.C.), have their way, the answer will be "no."

Why? President Obama, Holmes, and the Democrats are allowing public school ideology to override the best interest of the OSP kids. They are so beholden to the D.C. public school monopoly that they will not allow the voucher program to continue once its extension has expired. This program provides possibly the only escape hatch for those trapped in failing D.C. public schools.

Contrast for a moment Sidwell with the D.C. public schools. Sidwell will teach Sasha and Malia well and effectively. Their educational progress is assured. On the other hand, test results from the D.C. public schools are among the worst in the country. Less than half of elementary and less than 40 percent of secondary students are proficient in math and reading. Delegate Norton claims this is due to under-funding of the public schools, but the evidence is to the contrary. Andrew Coulson, educational writer and analyst, calculates that when all sources of revenue for the D.C. schools are considered, the yearly per pupil cost is a whopping $24,600. The OSP program, if it were continued, would provide a mere $7,500 per student toward private or charter choices. Which program is actually "under-funded?"

When it comes to Sasha and Malia, the Obamas understand the critical importance of a good, rigorous education because such educations changed their own lives. Yet, when it comes to giving that opportunity to other youngsters in the District of Columbia, most of whom are African American, and whose parents count them as precious as the Obamas count their daughters, the president and his party will likely withdraw aid. For those 2,000 boys and girls in the OSP, the "education train" may be their only ticket out of poverty and dependency and they may not get a chance to ride it.

It is a bitter irony that these deserving students may be consigned to substandard instruction by the very president who promised to be the agent of change and the friend of the poor.

There is one hope. Perhaps, one of Barack Obama’s daughters will make friends during the remaining school year with one of the OSP students attending Sidwell. After hearing that low-income youngster’s story relayed by Sasha or Malia, could President Obama be moved to continue the program? Stranger things have happened.

Dr. John A. Sparks is dean of the Alva J. Calderwood School of Arts & Letters at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania and is a fellow in Educational Policy at the College’s Center for Vision & Values.