Someone Else’s Choice, Your Tax Dollars: D.C. Newspapers Push Vouchers Via Presidential School Pick

November 17th, 2008
By Sandhya Bathija
Religious School Vouchers

Over the weekend, The Washington Times and The Washington Post ran opinion pieces on President-elect Barack Obama’s search for a new school for his daughters.

The editorial page writers made an argument on behalf of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—a federally funded pilot program that has given school vouchers to students to attend religious or other private schools instead of Washington, D.C.’s public schools.

The program’s five-year term was up this year, and while the federal government extended the program for one more year, decisions will soon be made about whether to continue pouring government funding into vouchers rather than putting that money toward bettering the D.C. public school system.

Both the Post and the Times, which are traditionally on opposite ends of the political spectrum, seem to think school vouchers are a great idea for D.C. To back that stance, they’ve now come up with a most illogical argument.

The newspapers ask, if Obama has a choice of which school, private or public, to send his children, why shouldn’t the rest of America?

“The Obamas have the ability to make a choice for their children, a choice the president-elect would deny to every other Americans who cannot afford to pay private school tuition,” The Washington Times said. “Politicians who are parents and who have the power to let others make the choices they make, but refuse to do so, are inconsistent at best and hypocrites at worst.”

The Washington Post wrote, “[A]s President-elect Barack Obama and his wife decide what’s right for Malia and Sasha, Mr. Obama might want to think about the families that he would deny this precious freedom of choice….the schools Michelle Obama visited this week—Georgetown Day and Sidwell Friends—participate in the voucher program. That means classmates of Malia and Sasha might lose the ability to attend their chose school if vouchers were eliminated. That wouldn’t seem fair.”

Here’s what doesn’t seem fair: Taking federal taxpayer dollars and giving them to religious schools that are free to discriminate in hiring, discriminate in admissions and indoctrinate children in the tenets of one faith, while allowing the D.C. public school system to suffer.

Not to mention, the voucher program has not proven successful. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), which was just released in June, voucher students attending private schools are performing the same on reading and math tests as students who have remained in the public school system. In 2007, the DOE‘s report found the same.

There are also constitutional ramifications to the vouchers. If government funds went to support a particular religious group, a group that is able to discriminate in its hiring and whose mission is to spread a particular religious belief, wouldn’t this be in clear conflict with the First Amendment and basic church-state separation principles? Yet that is exactly what is happening under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and somehow it has continued to exist despite this violation of civil rights and civil liberties.

It’s no secret that the ability to choose what is best for your child is what every parent dreams of. But it’s not always possible for everyone to afford private school tuition. That’s why we have a public school system—and we should aim to make that system the best it can be, not give up on it when it faces problems.

There are a lot of things that President-elect Barack Obama will soon have that the rest of America won’t have. He will live in a 55,000-square-foot house with 132 rooms (including a bowling alley, a theater and a swimming pool). He will fly in his own jet, enjoy meals prepared by his own cook, ride in a limo and travel with an entourage of bodyguards.

If we were to follow the logic of the Times and Post, that would mean every American should have all these things, too – and at the poor beleaguered taxpayer’s expense. I don’t think most American taxpayers would buy into that.

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