Friday, February 25, 2011

A Lost Opportunity

Education provides a beacon of hope and opportunity, opening the door to the American Dream. Congress passed the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2004. This program provides scholarships for low-income families to send their children to a private school of their choice. In 2009, the United States Congress voted to indefinitely terminate the DCOSP, consequently ending hope for D.C.’s chance to reform its educational system and community.

District of Columbia’s Public School System is ranked 51st in the Nation. Students who attend public schools not only suffer from insufficient educational standards but also face daily threats of violence. Students whose families do not have the funding to send their children to private schools find themselves stuck in a cycle of poverty and desperation.

From 2004-2005, taxpayers spent $15,315 per one pupil to attend public school in D.C., while it only costs $7,500 per scholarship recipient. Recent polls show that over 30% of politicians’ children attend private schools or home school programs. Yet when bills come before Congress they tend to shy away from programs such as the DCOS that help kids escape failing government schools. They do no want students of low-income families to have the opportunity to escape the public school system and attend private schools. Throughout the Civil Rights movement minority families found themselves fighting for the right to have their children attend schools of their choice. Today, it is the same. Minorities find that the teachers union and Congress are now standing in the way of their escaping the public school system and choosing the best education for their children.

The DCOSP not only helps local families but also serves its community. Since 2004 families involved in the scholarship program report that their children now have safe environments, as well as, the tools necessary to succeed in life. Students themselves are able to receive a better education and look forward to a brighter future. Some even have opportunity to attend college, something that was not attainable without the DCOS. Children who were once stuck in a cycle of violence and poverty now possess the tools necessary to create a better future outside the public school system.

The National Educational Association (NEA) is one of the leading groups opposing the DCOSP. At the 2009 NEA convention retiring General Counsel Bob Chanin’s stated in his farewell speech “Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideals… it is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision for a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because of power, and we have power because more than 3.2 million people are willing to pay us dues each year because they believe we are the unions that can effectively represent them.” This association is not concerned for the education of America but rather their own self-employment. What is worse is that we give the NEA and its affiliates their power. In 2009, Congress caved and voted to systematically defund the program within 2 years. The DCOS is a program that challenges the educational system and teacher unions; however, the program has been taken away form hundreds of its recipients. The question that must be asked is, why is Congress ending a program that promotes higher standards and saves money?

Education is what defines America, and programs like the DCOS provide parents and children hope for a future. Not only is D.C. spending more on the public school systems but they are also getting less out of the system. These families are real people with real lives and deserve the chance to escape the public school system, choosing the best method of education for their children. Congress must understand that D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is imperative for a brighter future.

By Jason Lloyd

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