Government Reform

Obama's Hypocrisy on School Vouchers

The "most ethical" administration turns its back on principle to pay off the teachers' unions

|

Perhaps hard-bitten cynics aren't surprised by the quiet ruthlessness with which this administration has deep-sixed a popular D.C. school voucher program. But for everyone else—or, rather, everyone else not in bed with teachers' unions—its conduct has to come as a total shock.

D.C. public schools are violent, chaotic places that have among the highest dropout—and the lowest graduation—rates in the country. In 2007, D.C.'s fourth- and eighth-grade students scored lower than children from all 50 states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation's most reliable standardized test. Less than half of its children are "proficient"—meaning they perform at grade-level—in reading and math.

Against this grim reality, one would have thought an administration that ran on the theme of hope would do anything to nurture a program that offers a way out of D.C.'s hope-killing factories and into other schools.

Instead, the Obama administration has done everything in its power to strangle it. Obama cheerfully signed a spending bill that gratuitously included a provision phasing out the program next year unless Congress expressly reauthorizes it. Of course, making water flow uphill will be easier than winning approval from a Democrat-controlled Congress with strong ties to the teachers' unions who contribute tens of millions of dollars to Democratic campaigns.

As if that wasn't a big enough obstacle, no sooner had the ink dried on the law than Education Secretary Arne Duncan rescinded the scholarship offer to children admitted for next year, making the program's shuttering a fait accompli.

And now it turns out that, while the program's fate was being sealed in Congress, the administration deliberately sat on a study its own Department of Education completed weeks earlier. Why? Because the study found not that the program was failing, but that it was succeeding.

In fact, the program, with per-pupil costs that are a third of what D.C. public schools spend, is producing solid gains for the 1,700 predominantly poor and minority children it serves. Indeed, the first batch of children who received vouchers from the program for private schools is now 19 months ahead of its public school peers in reading—which is why there are four applicants for every available slot.

But transparency is not the only principle the administration has sacrificed in this matter. In fact, the layers of hypocrisy underlying its conduct would make even Machiavelli blush.

First: This administration has proudly boasted that it would make a decisive break with its predecessor's habit of ignoring science when it clashed with policy objectives. And concerning the D.C. program in particular, President Obama had assured that he would let evidence settle its fate. "Let's see if it [the voucher program] works," he said during the campaign. "And if it does, whatever my preconceptions, you do what's best for the kids." Yet far from being led by the scientific evidence, he concealed it.

Second: The administration has been airdropping money across the country in an alleged attempt to stimulate the economy. Indeed, it increased education spending 10-fold for two years in its $750 billion stimulus package that includes, among other things, money to weather-proof school buildings. It has also been pouring trillions of dollars into failed banks and auto companies. Yet it didn't think it fit to spend an infinitesimal $14 million on a thriving program that makes a palpable difference in the lives of children desperately in need of help.

Third: President Obama has promised to lead the most ethical administration, one immune from the corruption of special-interest politics. Yet he offered not even a pretense of resistance to the biggest Democratic interest group: teachers unions—even though it is evident that what's driving their opposition to this program is not principle but naked self-interest.

To be sure, unions have long pretended to oppose vouchers not because they are afraid of competition but because vouchers drain resources from public school children. But the D.C. program didn't do that. In fact, precisely to address this objection, the program was structured to keep D.C. public schools financially stable, meaning they lose no funding when their students transfer elsewhere. If anything, they have more money to spend on the remaining children. Obama would have done all D.C. children a service by pointing out this inconvenient truth—but he chose to remain silent.

Four: The most blatant hypocrisy involves Obama's personal parental decisions. He chose to send his own daughters to Sidwell Friends, a private school among D.C.'s most exclusive institutions whose annual tuition runs around $30,000. If he felt so strongly that offering children an exit route would stymie the reform of public schools, then why not put his own daughters in one? Jimmy Carter did. This would not only please unions—prompting them to open up their war chest even more in the next elections—but also signal his resolve about reform. If he didn't, that's presumably because his daughters' futures are too precious to be sacrificed on the altar of politics. But, evidently, the futures of other children are not.

Incidentally, among the children who will have to return to public school once this program is scrapped are two of his daughter's schoolmates, who were using their vouchers to attend Sidwell. It's sad that Obama's message of hope and change doesn't include children like them.

Shikha Dalmia is a Senior Analyst at Reason Foundation.This article was originally published at Forbes.com.

NEXT: How to Stimulate the Economy, UK Edition: Make Friends with (Type II) Diabetics!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me.

  2. Perhaps hard-bitten cynics aren’t surprised

    I don’t really think of myself as a hard-bitten cynic. I’m really more of the home-style crust sort of cynic. Democrats sucking up to unions? I’m not shocked.

  3. Obama’s conduct has to come as a total shock

    You had to be a retard not to see this coming from a light-year away.

    I am beginning to be persuaded that McCain would have been the lesser evil given that a Democrat congress was an inevitability. Perhaps we’ll get back to the do-nothing divided government of Clinton’s last 6 years if the GOP retakes the House in 2010: barring revolution or secession, that’s probably the best outcome we can hope for.

  4. “…barring revolution or secession, that’s probably the best outcome we can hope for.”

    Well, there is Zombie plague as a possiblity.

  5. Obama was chair of the Bill Ayers rip off known as the Annenberg Challenge foundation in Chicago. No way is BO going to make so that more kids can get out of public schools and escape indoctrination.

    BO doesn’t give a fuck about poor kids. The last thing he would ever want is for any of them to learn anything or find any success on their own. What are they going to then besides maybe learn to think on their own? How the hell is that in his interest?

  6. Well, there is Zombie plague as a possiblity.

    Do silver-tipped bullets provide any advantage over FMJ against zombies? Am I getting zombies confused with werewolves or vampires? Maybe with zombies, decapitation is required. I need to consult my survival manual. 😉

  7. I saw the mother and her kids who attend (and/or would have attended) the same school Obama’s kids attend, interviewed on TV this weekend. Great mom. Good kids.

    The reading and math proficiency scores at the school the kids will now have to attend were something like 17% and 9% respectively.

    Obame = Teh EVIL.

  8. I’m shocked that anyone could be shocked by this.

    Do silver-tipped bullets provide any advantage over FMJ against zombies?

    No, zombies aren’t werewolves, and on top of that, if you can put one bullet through multiple zombies’ heads, you get more bang for the buck. Have you seen the cost of ammo right now?

  9. I am constantly telling DHS how pathetic our national planning and readiness for zoombie attack is. “TWO IN THE HEAD! MAKE SURE THEIR DEAD!” Should be posted in every grade school, high school, church and shopping mall in America. But they won’t listen to me. Fools!!

  10. One other thing. The rat bastard made over $2 million last year. If he really were what his nitwit followers think he is, he would pay for those kids in his daughter’s school to go out of his own pocket.

  11. Well, there is Zombie plague as a possiblity.

    We have a Democratic congress and a Democratic president. It’s pretty much the same thing.

  12. “One other thing. The rat bastard made over $2 million last year. If he really were what his nitwit followers think he is, he would pay for those kids in his daughter’s school to go out of his own pocket.”

    I wondered about that too (’cause that’s what I’d do), but then realized there was no way he could do that because he would be setting the example of philanthropy over government welfare.

  13. What if a zombie bit a werewolf? Would you turn into a zombie every full moon? Would you have a zombie that turned into a werewolf? Would the werewolf be a zombie werewolf? A zombie werewolf would definitely required a silver bullet headshot. And a Coors-gun is hard to aim properly.

  14. And of course there’s the gift tax.

  15. A zombie werewolf would definitely required a silver bullet headshot.

    Mr Free, I think you may have posed the world’s greatest 4/20 question: “Can werewolves drink Coors Light?” Well done.

  16. And a Coors-gun is hard to aim properly.

    Yeah dude, the rock-it-launcher sucks.

  17. Why libertarians must oppose vouchers – and why liberals must oppose public schools: “Education and the First Amendment.”

  18. A zombie werewolf would definitely required a silver bullet headshot.

    Well, here’s the question: if you shot it with a silver bullet anywhere, would you remove the lycanthropy charm, and then you could headshot the now-normal zombie with a regular bullet? This is a complicated issue.

    Remember, if you shoot a regular werewolf with a silver bullet, the bullet kills them and the silver removes the charm, which is why the body transforms back to human after you kill it. So the zombie would transform back to normal, but would still be animated until you shot it in the head, or taught it to do simple tasks.

    “Can werewolves drink Coors Light?”

    Can anyone drink Coors Light?

  19. You never get dinged for going along with the Revolution.

    Revolutionary logic: if this school is good enough for the poor, it’s good enough for the rich — even if the rich kids are on average smarter.

    We’ve got some geniuses in power.

  20. Man, he’s getting trashed here and at DU. Even W wasn’t doing so bad 90 days into his first term.

  21. As a DCPS parent, I am glad to see that the voucher program is dying a slow death. It has not been as effective the writer portends. The voucher program leaves much to be desired considering that the majority of the students that it is intended to help still can’t go to the private schools because, even with the voucher, they still can’t afford tuition or they don’t pass the school’s rigorous admission requirements.

    Parents have a choice to send their child to any DCPS. Unlike most school systems, students are bound to their neighborhood schools. They may attend any DCPS as an out-of-bound student as long as there is availability.

    The money could be better used to improve DCPS, especially is special education programs. Each year, DCPS spends millions on special education lawsuits because they are not able to provide adequate services.

    For the record, I do not fault the Obama’s for sending their children to Sidwell rather than a public school. It is a matter of safety and protection rather than the lack of faith in DCPS to educate their children.

  22. “And of course there’s the gift tax.”

    You can pay the gift tax for someone. BO would just write a check for say $30,000 to the school and then another check to the IRS covering the person’s gift tax and the person is cool with the IRS. Since paying taxes is the most patriotic thing you can do, it would be a win win for BO. Right?

  23. Sort of OT — Has anybody been hearing about cyber charter schools (e.g., the Pennsylvania version)? Seems like they could be a stealth way of escaping the union grip.

  24. “The money could be better used to improve DCPS, especially is special education programs. Each year, DCPS spends millions on special education lawsuits because they are not able to provide adequate services.”

    DC schools spend more money per child than almost any school system in the country. They only reason they can’t provide adaquate services is because they are incompetant and corrupt. The money would just go to line the pockets of corrupt DC officials.

    “For the record, I do not fault the Obama’s for sending their children to Sidwell rather than a public school. It is a matter of safety and protection rather than the lack of faith in DCPS to educate their children.”

    That is horseshit. Amy Carter when to DC schools without any problem. Are the bullies in the DC public school system bad enough to take on the Secret Service? It is no more difficult to secure a DC public school than it is Sidwell friends. Further, the grade schools in NW DC are actually quite good and full of rich white liberal kids. It is not like black people are allowed to live west of Rock Creek Park.

  25. “The money could be better used to improve DCPS, especially is special education programs. Each year, DCPS spends millions on special education lawsuits because they are not able to provide adequate services”

    DC spends more per student than any other city in America. Just how much more money do you need???

  26. The gift tax, as I understand it, is paid by the giver at a rate of around 26% on gifts over a certain amount for each gift per year.

  27. “You can pay the gift tax for someone.”

    I understand that. The tax is always on the giver.

  28. “on gifts over a certain amount for each gift per year.”

    $12k/year

  29. The voucher program leaves much to be desired considering that the majority of the students that it is intended to help still can’t go to the private schools because, even with the voucher,

    So the solution is to close the program down? Because it is too small to help everyone who it is intended to help?

    Just curious, gmclark. Do you advocate closing every public program down that doesn’t manage to reach every possible recipient? Or only this one?

    For the record, I do not fault the Obama’s for sending their children to Sidwell rather than a public school.

    Me neither. I do think he’s a total dick for denying other parents the opportunity to do the same.

    It is a matter of safety and protection rather than the lack of faith in DCPS to educate their children.

    What horse-hockey. Of course its because DCPS does a shit job of educating. Look at the numbers. If it were really a safety thing, the Obama kids would be home-schooled.

  30. “It is a matter of safety and protection rather than the lack of faith in DCPS to educate their children.”

    A poor pregnant kid in DC can choose to abort her baby, but she can’t choose her school.

    Choice is for wombs, not brains.

  31. “If it were really a safety thing, the Obama kids would be home-schooled.”

    That’s what I would do if I were president. Think of the tutors you could hire!

  32. As a DCPS parent, I am glad to see that the voucher program is dying a slow death.
    You’re one of the few. It’s immensely popular with the rest of the parents (see the backlog stat quoted in the article.)

    even with the voucher … they don’t pass the school’s rigorous admission requirements.
    So you ensure that those who do meet the requirements are actually educated rather than simply herded (as they are in DCPS.) Not a fault of the program because…

    The money could be better used to improve DCPS, especially is special education programs.
    The program was specifically written to ensure that the amount of money given to DC schools was not affected by the participants of the program. i.e. no money is being taken out of the system to try this voucher experiment.

    They may attend any DCPS as an out-of-bound student as long as there is availability.
    I’m sure that the best ones have plenty of availability for the average Joes.

    For the record, I do not fault the Obama’s for sending their children to Sidwell rather than a public school.
    I agree with you here. I don’t see that this is as big an issue as it is portrayed. This article could have stuck to the first three points and been just as effective.

  33. if a zombie werewolf bit you on the ass, would you have to shot yourself in the ass with a silver bullet or could you get your bestest pal to shot you in the ass? Or, you could get a job as a DCPS teacher given their performance, they must be a bunch of hairy dead things.

  34. gmclark: You’ve already been properly ripped for the “give DCPS more money” silliness, but your first paragraph is even worse. Your argument there boils down to: “It only helps some kids somewhat, so let’s kill it.” So let’s stop all progress that doesn’t help everyone to a huge degree?

    If the Republicans can’t make a heart-rending 30-second TV spot from this situation, they’re even more incompetent than I thought.

    Legate Damar: No, I fault him for that, too. If it’s so important that every kid goes to public school, why do rich and powerful liberals make exceptions for their kids? It’s just hypocrisy: the masses must go to crappy public schools, but the kids of the revolutionary vanguard elite people’s representatives must be treated better.

  35. “I inhaled frequently, that was the point.”
    Mr. Obama, will you stop the insane war on cannabis? Answer: Giggle, giggle, NO!

    “I will have a science based approach to resolving problems: I will resist partisan politics and provide transparency in making decisions.”
    Mr. Obama, in light of the fact that the school voucher program has proven to provide a better education for its students, at one third the price, will you support contuing it? Answer: NO! (And I will try to misrepresent and hide any evidence that supports that view point.)

    ~ Now that is change you can believe in!

  36. if a zombie werewolf bit you on the ass, would you have to shot yourself in the ass with a silver bullet or could you get your bestest pal to shot you in the ass?

    Why does that sound so gay?

    The answer, I suppose, is that you’d have to do a silver enema.

  37. Epi, the problem with a silver enema is the cheap silver,discolored ring it leaves around your butthole.

  38. Obama is a hypocrite and liar on about every issue.

    That is the basis of DemoRat philosophy these days (see Obama and Blago as prime examples).

  39. Arguing that Obama should send his girls to public school, even though he has worked his way up to a position of affording Sidwell would seem anti-libertarian.

  40. Epi, the problem with a silver enema is the cheap silver,discolored ring it leaves around your butthole.

    ben, another asshole bleaching treatment usually clears that right up.

  41. Well, if they are Obama zombies, just slap them kinda hard and they will start to cry, their vagina will hurt and bleed, and they will stick their head back in the sand and hopefully suffocate.

  42. New starfish safe Clorox.

  43. if a zombie werewolf bit you on the ass, would you have to shot yourself in the ass with a silver bullet or could you get your bestest pal to shot you in the ass?

    A zombie werewolf would never get close enough to some of us to ever have to worry about an injury to our ass.

    ZOMBIE GUN!!!

  44. Everyone should be a member of a Zombie Defense Team.

  45. Perhaps hard-bitten cynics aren’t surprised by the quiet ruthlessness with which President Barack Obama deep-sixed a popular D.C. school voucher program.

    *blushes*
    Golly gee, me? Shucks, I couldn’t have done it without the multitudes of hypocritical, self serving, power hungry politicians I’ve observed over the last FORTY FUCKING YEARS.

    Mr. Hope and Change merely reinforces my longheld opinion that politicians are lying scum that don’t give a crap about those they profess to “serve”.

    DC’s 3 electoral votes are going Dem for the forseeable future. OTOH, teacher votes may tip the balance in a congressional district or statewide election. So it’s “fuck those little niggers, we’ve got elections to win”.

  46. Why libertarians must oppose vouchers –

    Stop by and pick up my decoder ring any goddam time, Barry.

  47. The money could be better used to improve DCPS, especially is special education programs.

    Divide all that by the 49,422 students enrolled (for the 2007-08 year) and you end up with about $24,600 per child [in DC schools].

    Damn, you’re stupid.

  48. Re: the gift tax- actually there is another exception to the gift tax beside the 13k per year (in 2009). You can pay a person’s tuition directly to an accredited educational institution, no matter the cost, without incurring any gift tax liability.

  49. Wow. This whole article and most of the non-zombie/werewolf comments here are based on a report that has not been issued, and which is being claimed as a direct refutation of whatever Obama’s team made their decision based on.

    Where the fuck were you guys pre-economic meltdown? With brains as big as you’ve got and your high caliber clairvoyance, you should really stop sitting on your asses and start sharing your brilliance with the rest of the world.

    Or at least exhibit a little of it when you post a comment. The ‘tard-iness of many of these posts is overwhelming.

  50. “Arguing that Obama should send his girls to public school, even though he has worked his way up to a position of affording Sidwell would seem anti-libertarian.”

    But Obama isn’t Libertarian. Sauce for the goose…

  51. Arguing that Obama should send his girls to public school, even though he has worked his way up to a position of affording Sidwell would seem anti-libertarian.

    Um, what? Arguing that Obama should be forced to send his girls to public school would be anti-libertarian.

  52. You can pay a person’s tuition directly to an accredited educational institution, no matter the cost, without incurring any gift tax liability.

    Complete exclusions paid directly to institution:
    Tuition
    Medical costs
    Political organization

    Exclusions with caveats:
    Annual Exclusion
    Marital exclusion
    Charitable exclusion

    That is not a complete list and it is far more complicated than just a few categories. Go go craptastic tax code.

  53. “Mr. Hope and Change merely reinforces my longheld opinion that politicians are lying scum that don’t give a crap about those they profess to ‘serve’.”

    Crap, I think it’s happening! I’m turning into J sub D!

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  54. Best solution for public education: abolish it.

    Second best solution: make it a felony to hire a member of a teachers’ union or a graduate of an education college to teach in a public school.

    Well, I can dream of a better world, can’t I?

  55. Sorry kids, we’re throwing you under the bus because the democrats have to do what the schooling cartel says. You didn’t think it was about getting you to learn anything, did you? Besides, you’re poor! What are you going to do with an education anyway? Read Dickens while you wait in the line at the welfare office?

    -jcr

  56. Mr. Hope and Change merely reinforces my longheld opinion that politicians are lying scum that don’t give a crap about those they profess to “serve”.

    That kind of goes hand in hand with the concentration of power. If the government only exercised its legitimate authority, then assholes who wanted to order other people around would all go into the entertainment industry.

    -jcr

  57. Am I missing something here? Aren’t vouchers another form of handouts? It seems like the same people pushing for vouchers are violently opposed to S-CHIP.

    “Yes, I want kids to learn in private schools, but I’ll be damned if they’re healthy enough to go.”

    I do agree with the other poster about Obama not stepping up to the plate and paying for his daughters’ classmates tuition.

  58. Wow. This whole article and most of the non-zombie/werewolf comments here are based on a report that has not been issued,

    Wait, there’s a zombie/werewolf report that *has* been issued?

  59. Wait, there’s a zombie/werewolf report that *has* been issued?

    Nope. But there is a vampire/werewolf report that I’ve found illuminating. I just can’t find the link.

  60. …there’s a zombie/werewolf report that *has* been issued?

    There’s this one.

  61. I wish Urkobold warn’t filtered at my work.

  62. Urkobold is filtered at your work? But we’re less than 50% pr0n now!

  63. Urkobold is filtered at your work? But we’re less than 50% pr0n now!

    😀 Gov’t filters all of Blogspot. It’s a kick-ass site, though. And I’m not just kissing ass. OK, maybe a little bit. 😉

  64. Three cheers for the President! I’m just glad he’s clearing the riff-raff out of Sidwell. I’ve heard the low-income scholarship types there are rather malodorous.

    Billionaires for Obama.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.