In a cover story today, the Washington Examiner highlights the continuing exodus from traditional public schools in the D.C. school system:

By Monday’s first school bell, charters project at least 28,000 students, or about 2,400 more than last year, while D.C. Public Schools expect about 45,000, or 2,000 fewer than in spring.dc

This year’s decline follows a trend that has continued for decades. According to the Examiner, nearly 30,000 students have left the city’s public school system. Much of the exodus has been into the charter school system, which has grown rapidly over the past decade. But the Examiner reports that many students appear to have gone to suburban school systems or private schools.

D.C. families are fortunate to have some opportunities to choose different schools thanks to charter schools, public school choice, and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. And these school choice options have created enough pressure on the public school system to pave the way for a serious reformer like School Chancellor Michelle Rhee to try to turnaround the school system.

Everyone should hope that she succeeds. Unfortunately, until that happens, we should also recognize that thousands of D.C. kids will not have the opportunity to attend a safe and effective school. Many kids’ applications to transfer to different public schools in other neighborhoods are denied; many charter schools have waiting lists and have to hold lotteries to decide who gets to enroll. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is limited, and Congress and the Obama administration are threatening its end. The bottom line is that thousands of kids have no choice but to attend government-zoned schools based on their home address—a process that can consign the kids in the poorest parts of town to the worst schools.

All families in D.C. deserve to have the power to choose a safe and effective school for their children—the same power that most politicians take for granted.

Today, a group of D.C. parents and students held a vigil outside the U.S. Department of Education—calling on Secretary Arne Duncan to reverse his decision to withdraw scholarships from 216 students who had recently been admitted to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Parents and students chanted: “Secretary Duncan, do the right thing—put children first.” They’ve created a website——to call attention these 216 students.

Sadly, the D.C. school year is fast approaching. The time is running out for Secretary Duncan to hear their cries and do the right thing. 216 kids are waiting.