Black and Hispanic Leaders Blast President Obama’s Opposition to D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP)

By | March 30, 2011

African American and Hispanic leaders tonight sharply criticized the Obama Administration’s official announcement opposing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a highly successful school voucher initiative serving low-income children in the District of Columbia. The following is a statement from Kevin P. Chavous, the chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Julio Fuentes, the president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options:

“President Barack Obama’s opposition to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is hypocritical and it is wrong. If President Obama continues his fight against school choice and education reform, history will long remember him as someone who failed to stand up to richly funded special interest groups and, in the process, denied low-income and minority children access to better schools. As leaders in the African American and Hispanic communities, we call on the president to reverse his position — not as a matter of ideology, but as a matter of social justice.

President Obama attended private schools using scholarships. As a parent, President Obama exercises school choice for his own daughters. But when it comes to other children in Washington, D.C. — most of whom are African American and Hispanic — our president apparently does not believe these children deserve the same high-quality opportunities. As a candidate, Senator Obama promised to ‘fund what works in education, regardless of ideology.’ But as President, the same principle and the same sound logic seemingly doesn’t apply.

When it comes to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), the President’s views aren’t only wrong — his facts are faulty. The OSP yields a 91 percent student graduation rate for children who use their vouchers, which is 30 percentage points higher than graduation rates for students in D.C.’s public schools. Parental satisfaction with the OSP is overwhelming. More than 28 percent of public schools have reported innovating as a result of the program. And students are gaining several additional months of learning in reading. To top it off, the program educates children at less than half of the per-child cost of the D.C. Public Schools.

By any metric, by any measure, and by any reasonable standard, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be a model for the nation. Instead, it is on life support — thanks in no small part to the actions and inactions of President Barack Obama — who has opted to ignore inconvenient realities instead of taking courageous stands.

If President Obama were to summon the courage, he would see that, nationally, the research on school choice programs is just as sterling as the facts surrounding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. In Florida, school choice programs have been shown to increase student achievement and spur public schools to improve. In Wisconsin, students participating in a voucher program are graduating at rates that are 18 percent higher than in traditional public schools. In Louisiana, a stunning 93 percent of parents who send their children to private schools are satisfied with their children’s education. And this research is just from the past year!

School choice works. We just need more of it, so that fewer low-income children are confined to schools that fail, year after year after year.

No matter what President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, say about education reform, facts don’t lie. During this president’s tenure, the dropout rate for African American and Hispanic children has remained the same. Half of all children of color do not achieve high school diplomas. During this president’s tenure, more than two dozen other countries continue to outpace America in math and literacy. Opportunity does not abound for all of our citizens. During this president’s tenure, more money has been spent on education than at any other time in our nation’s history. But real results — the type seen in school choice programs like the OSP — simply cannot be bought.

For more than three decades, we, as community leaders, have waited for the tide of public education to turn from failing and inadequate to effective and inclusive. We’ve waited for public schools to fix themselves. We’ve waited for politicians to make good on their promises that more time, and more money, will solve our educational woes. We’ve waited for an enormous achievement gap between African American and Hispanic children to close through traditional programs. We’re done waiting now, because each day we wait, more children are lost.

We want our children educated by any means necessary — not five years from now, but today. We don’t believe it’s morally acceptable to allow one more month, one more year, one more decade to pass as platitudes are substituted for public policy. We support all educational options for children, including school vouchers. We support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. We call on Congress to restore it and to extend it, and we call on other states to emulate it.”

  • Anonymous

    Opponents of the program, including Mayor Vincent Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), say that it steers attention and resources away from public schools in need and the city’s thriving charter school program. The two sides also disagree on whether the scholarships have been shown to improve student performance.

    So why is President Obama being blasted?

  • I am in d.c. and d.c. is being used as a trial run at eliminating public schooling in America..
    those “leaders” in d.c. that are advocates for charter schools are( paid) shills and black mouthpieces for a neo-liberal / reactionary agenda that can be played out in d.c. because of our “colonial” status (we have no real control of the city and no voice in the federal government i.e. taxation WITHOUT representation . which has resulted in the underdevelopement of political life in d.c.
    If you investigate these “leaders” you will find they are on the payroll of reactionary groups and some of them are religious groups.

  • [quote]I am in d.c. and d.c. is being used as a trial run at eliminating public schooling in America..[/quote]

    Smith – I am not following your rationale.

    The government run school system in Washington DC are FAILING to educate our children – by the admissions of nearly EVERY combatant in the struggle. It appears to me that you are more interested in protecting the status quo of the franchise than you are in allowing parents to pursue the strategy that they believe is necessary for their children to receive a PUBLICALLY FUNDED quality education.

    You talk about DC’s “colonial status”. Are you aware that “FREED” cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee have charter schools that are well attended by Black parents?

  • Roosevelt Freeman

    Obama promised to get behind educational programs that work regardless of ideology. If DC is being used as a trial run to eliminate a failed public institution and replace with something that serves our children better then so be it. If the Opportunity Scholarship program in DC is the impetous for public schools to get their damned act together, then let it be.

  • Whiteknight

    Barack Obama only cares about illegal imigrant rights not the rights and equal or fair treatment of those of us that got here legally he never holds up those who had their identity stolen by an illegal imigrant, he refuses to keep our borders safe, if you truly think illegal imigration is ok? 13 million illegal immigrants and no jobs for hard working citizens here legally. He supports them because they will be his only supporters in 2012
    I mean try getting caught in Mexico or Canada without papaers and see where you end up how can you protect our country when you wanty to let anyone in? He is the worst president ever.