Education Secretary Shovels Dirt on D.C. Vouchers' Grave


When congressional Democrats in February singled out Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program as just about the only federal initiative not worth funding as part of a $410 billion spendapalooza, some Democratic apologists were all, yeah that's bad, but technically they're continuing the program for one more school year, then requiring congressional reauthorization at that time, etc.

Well, so much for that line of defense. From a Washington Post editorial this weekend:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has decided not to admit any new students to the D.C. voucher program, which allows low-income children to attend private schools. The abrupt decision—made a week after 200 families had been told that their children were being awarded scholarships for the coming fall—comes despite a new study showing some initial good results for students in the program and before the Senate has had a chance to hold promised hearings. For all the talk about putting children first, it's clear that the special interests that have long opposed vouchers are getting their way.

Officials who manage the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program sent letters this week to parents notifying them that the scholarships of up to $7,500, were being rescinded because of the decision by the Education Department. Citing the political uncertainty surrounding vouchers, a spokesperson for Mr. Duncan told us that it is not in the best interest of students and their parents to enroll them in a program that may end a year from now. Congress conditioned funding beyond the 2009-10 school year on reauthorization by Congress and approval by the D.C. Council. By presuming the program dead—and make no mistake, that's the insidious effect of his bar on new enrollment—Mr. Duncan makes it even more difficult for the program to get the fair hearing it deserves.

The sheer gratuitousness of this move is just appalling. Yes, let's subject this one program to a kind of cost-benefit skepticism that nothing else in a half-trillion bill receives. Let's throw teachers unions a symbolic bone that, by the way, screws over poor minority kids in a school system that was finally gaining some traction. How hideous. As the Weekly Standard's Mary Katharine Ham put it, "It's clear that, when given a choice, Democrats are more petrified of unions than they are interested in doing something that works for some of the most underserved kids in the District."

Read Michael W. Lynch's January 2000 Reason feature on the then-nascent voucher movement in D.C.