|Sticking it to the Littlest Guys: Obama Chooses Teacher Unions Over Inner-City Kids|
|BY TROY SENIK |
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16 2012
The election of Barack Obama was supposed to be a penitential act. His ascension to office, we were told, was interpretable as an offer of atonement for a nation whose founding promise of equality and liberty was soiled by the original sin of slavery. As a controlling argument for his candidacy, it was thin gruel. It’s an act of electoral malpractice, after all, to ignore a candidate’s beliefs simply because he scratches the vestigial itch of collective guilt. But after Obama decisively carried the 2008 presidential election, even many conservatives consoled themselves with the thought that a new generation of minorities would grow up with factual proof that there was no glass ceiling impeding their ambitions.
Shamefully, however, the release of President Obama’s budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year earlier this week showed the glass ceiling very much in place. And the president himself was the glazier.
Buried within the document was a notation that the president proposed to end funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a federal initiative providing vouchers that allow more than 1,600 poor students in the nation’s capital to attend participating private schools.
The vast majority of students in the program are minorities. All of them are poor. And without the vouchers, they’d be trapped in Washington’s notoriously inadequate public schools, where less than 50 percent of elementary school students are proficient in math or reading and where violence is widespread (in 2009, more than 11 percent of D.C. students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon while at school).
Even if the president had unearthed a newfound instinct for fiscal probity, this would not be the place to apply it. The Opportunity Scholarship Program actually saves taxpayers money. The vouchers are $6,000 a year cheaper than the cost of educating students in D.C.’s public high schools, and $10,000 a year cheaper than the going rate for an elementary school education. And, most important, that lower cost is accompanied by higher quality. While D.C. public schools graduate around 55 percent of students, kids in the Opportunity Scholarship Program currently have a 91 percent graduation rate.
Needless to say, however, penny-pinching was not the order of the day. Even with a series of wildly unrealistic projections, Obama’s estimated budget deficit for the coming year was over $900 billion (in reality, it will easily surpass a trillion dollars). And he did manage to scrounge up the money to propose increasing subsidies for electric automobiles like the Chevy Volt– the average buyer of which makes $170,000 a year – to $10,000 per vehicle.
If you’re keeping score at home, that means the President of the United States would rather spend the $20 million allocated to the Opportunity Scholarship program to put 2,000 rich people in new cars than to put 1,600 poor children into decent schools.
Despite talking a good game about education reform, the Obama Administration remains beholden – like the vast majority of Democrats – to politically powerful education unions such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, two organizations which are so nakedly partisan that they have both endorsed the president’s reelection campaign without so much as waiting to see who the Republican nominee will be. Both have opposed school choice on the ostensible grounds that it will strip resources from public schools. In reality, of course, they fear that the competition will start unspooling their monopoly – and its attendant money.
For Barack Obama, of course this remains an abstract exercise. The hardships of an inner city school were never visited upon him, thanks to a generous scholarship that allowed him to attend Hawaii’s Punahou School, the Aloha State’s most elite preparatory institution.
As for the first daughters, Sasha and Malia, they both attend Sidwell Friends School, one of the Beltway’s most prestigious private schools. In a 2011 appearance on NBC’s Today Show, Obama admitted to a questioner that the quality of education his daughters receive is unavailable to students in D.C. public schools. Yet now he proposes to gut the Opportunity Scholarship program – some of the beneficiaries of which have attended Sidwell.
For this president – who endlessly preaches the gospel of class warfare – there is a deep and appalling irony. If ever his ambitions to defund the Opportunity Scholarship Program come to pass, he will have to look his daughters in the eyes and explain to them why some of their friends can’t attend school with them anymore. In that moment, it will be Obama who owes the debt of atonement.