Obama Thinks Like a Parent, Bails on D.C. Public Schools


Today's Washington Post article on President Obama's semi-dis of D.C.'s public school system raises the issue of hypocrisy:

Some of Obama's critics say it is hypocritical to spend so much money on private school while allowing a federal voucher program in the District to lapse. The city's voucher experiment provides up to $7,500 a year for some low-income D.C. families to enroll their children in private school. The Democratic-led Congress and the Obama administration have rejected requests from voucher supporters to reauthorize the program, and it is being phased out.

The elimination of the voucher program was devastating to the 1,713 voucher recipients and parents hoping for a way out of D.C.'s notoriously bad public schools. But Obama's willingness to let the voucher program die isn't the most egregious example of his failure to step up and do the right thing for the kids his daughters won't be going to school with.

Clearly Obama cares enough about his daughters' educations to take a P.R. hit. Even D.C.'s presumptive mayor-elect Vincent Gray believes the president has exhibited sound decision-making, and declared that Obama was justified in putting his children's futures before his political convictions: "I'm sure he feels like he and his wife are making the best decision for their children at this juncture," the article quotes Gray as saying.

But Obama actually had an opportunity to make the case for public school reform while simultaneously helping to make D.C.'s public school system the sort of place he'd trust with his own children. This perfect alignment of the personal and political was D.C.'s Democratic mayoral primary, when current D.C. mayor and reform proponent Adrian Fenty personally asked the president for his support. Obama said no. Fenty lost.

The result is that school reform is basically dead in D.C. (and possibly elsewhere). Obama might not have been able to get Fenty re-elected, but he would at least have proven that he was willing to take risks to improve the ability of his city (and his country) to produce an education system he would be willing to trust his kids to. But he chose not to, all but insuring that Sasha and Malia will be going to Sidwell Friends well into the future.