Politics lives on and, as a result, D.C.'s experiment with school vouchers apparently is over. The program was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican President in 2004, over the objection of teachers unions but to the applause of local leaders and parents. The vouchers were both popular and effective.
Last year, then-Senator Obama first praised vouchers, then flip-flopped to oppose the program. In March, Senate Democrats deleted continued voucher funding from the stimulus package; thereafter, President Obama "cheerfully signed." Recently, Obama's Secretary of Education killed some D.C. vouchers a year early. When the First Daughters return to Sidwell Friends private school this fall, a couple of their less-privileged classmates will be MIA--forced back to the failed public schools.
What's behind the decision? Not upholding District "home rule"--progressives knew a D.C. Council majority supported vouchers. Rather, President and party were "flexing for the unions", specifically the teachers' unions. They have front-row seats in the liberal coalition--the largest such union, NEA, gave 90 percent of its 2008 election cycle contributions to Democrats. Unionized teachers always and forever scorn vouchers as "an ongoing threat to public education." Uh--but what about choice, specifically educational choice?
More generally, secular communitarians see voucher funding as "tax dollars . . . diverted from public schools" to benefit the private sector and religions. Uh--but, hey, wasn't it a stimulus package?
Besides, the D.C. voucher program saved money. At a maximum of $7,500 each, vouchers were cheaper than the around $28,000 per-pupil the District spent on K-12 public education during the 08-09 school year. Uh--doesn't President Obama care about deficits any more?
The D.C. vouchers program aided education: voucher kids showed significantly improved reading proficiency, especially compared to D.C. public schools (see page 35-36). But, instead of vouchers, the stimulus law "pumps $2.9 billion into Head Start, the early childhood literacy program, and another $53.6 billion in Title I for state budgets." Head Start provides no provable long-term educational benefit; in the March City Journal, Marcus Winters calls Head Start "a glorified daycare program that has no real impact on student learning." Winters also says increased state aid will offset mooted state budget cuts--not improve public education, but instead postpone meaningful public education reform. Yet in his February 9th initial prime-time press conference, President Obama faulted Democrats for being "too resistant to reform," suggested we "experiment with things like charter schools that are innovating in the classroom," and vowed to adopt "whatever arguments are persuasive and backed up by evidence and facts and proof, that they can work." Uh--have press conference promises become "inoperative"?
Conclusion: I'm not surprised that domestic policies--especially economy, healthcare and environment--turned left. The majority of voters supported change.
But politics is much the same. The death of D.C. vouchers was another triumph for the liberal special interest agenda. Forget "restoring science to its proper place." So much for "what works". Improving education for D.C. kids didn't matter. Vouchers vanished because teachers unions hate vouchers, Democrats love unions, and the Hill and White House are Democrats.
My surprise was that progressives and press genuinely expected the Obamessiah to purify politics. My shock is the number of people who still say he has.