Let Me Rise

An eighth-grader named Shaketa is on the move. She’s representing thousands of her peers in the nation’s capital in the effort to save D.C. Opportunity Scholarships from the indefensible end imposed by Congress.

Shaketa, along with seven other children among the program’s 1,700 current enrollees appear in provocative print advertisements displayed in Metro’s busy Union Station subway stop and on 225 buses traveling every Metro route in the District.

The four-week ad campaign, sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, began Monday evening, when the chalkboard-themed ads greeted commuters along the Metro platform at Union Station. The public service ads, 42 in all, also are grouped at station exits and entrances.

Each ad is a portrait of Shaketa, fourth-grader Nico or one of the other six smiling, bright-eyed girls and boys. The children stand behind a slogan that looks to be stenciled with chalk: “Let Me Rise!“.

Rise is what Shaketa and the others have done as real-life recipients of D.C. Opportunity Scholarships of up to $7,500, which allowed them to attend a private school of their parents’ choosing.

Their message is aimed at members of the House and Senate — whose staff routinely ride Metro to and from Union Station. But the cry also is designed to catch the eye of parents and taxpayers – tourists as well as locals  – who believe kids, regardless of family income, should have an alternative to failing public schools in the District and elsewhere.

One ad pictures seventh-grader Fransoir, grinning and his arms folded, under the headline “Kids vs. Congress” and alongside a chalk drawing of the U.S. Capitol. The text gets to the point: “38% of members of Congress have sent a child to private school. Now, Congress wants to phase out a scholarship that gives children in D.C. the same opportunity.”

Despite the program’s track record of success since 2004, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate last year cut off future funding for the scholarships at the behest of President Barack Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and powerful teachers unions.

The most recent setback came March 16. In a 55-42 vote, the Senate  rejected an amendment by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) to reauthorize the program for another five years.

Three variations of the ad show a thought balloon chalked alongside a student’s cocked head, posing one of these tough questions:

  • Maybe they don’t know the President is a scholarship success story?
  • Maybe they don’t know we have higher test scores?
  • Maybe they don’t know our scholarships cost less than D.C. public schools?

Federally mandated evaluations of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program concluded enrolled students outperform peers in public school and their parents are happier with the education they’re getting.

Few wrongs are greater than the inequality that endures in American education,” says Virginia Walden Ford, a Heritage Foundation visiting fellow and mother of a past scholarship recipient, who has made saving the scholarship program the cause of her life. “More than a half century after the Supreme Court rejected segregation in our nation’s schools, minority children are still less likely to receive a quality education

Berman and Company, a Washington-based communications and advertising firm, created the ads. They direct readers to the effort’s Web site, VoicesofSchoolChoice.org and carry the disclaimer: “Brought to you by The Heritage Foundation.”

Featured schoolchildren also appear with Ms. Walden Ford in the Heritage-produced documentary, “Let Me Rise: The Struggle to Save School Choice in the Nation’s Capital,” a powerful 30-minute film narrated by NPR correspondent Juan Williams.