On April 6, 2009, Secretary Arne Duncan’s Department of Education sent letters to the families of 216 low-income children in the District of Columbia informing them that the $7,500 scholarships they had been awarded by the Department are now being rescinded. Instead of being able to send their children to the school of their choice, these DC parents now have no other option but schools that they believe are too violent and too disorganized to properly educate their child. Education Secretary Arne Duncan simply did not care what the parents of these 216 children thought was best for their child.

But now we find out that when Secretary Duncan was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, he took a decidedly different approach to the wishes of Chicago’s politically powerful families. The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that while he was Chicago schools chief, Secretary Duncan maintained a log of politicians and influential business people who sought better placement for their children in Chicago’s public schools. From the Tribune:

It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

The Tribune goes on to note that parents of special-needs children also appear on the list, but that “the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests.” The Tribune also notes that the powerful parents did not always get their top school of choice, but did manage to get their kids moved to “still desirable schools such as Lane Technical High School.”

What makes the disparity between how Secretary Duncan treats the parents of the powerful on the one hand, and low-income D.C. parents on the other, is that the D.C. Opportunity scholarship program that Secretary Duncan has worked so hard to kill has been proven effective by his own Department of Education. On April 3, 2009, the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences released the results of the three-year evaluation of the program. Specifically, students who had been offered vouchers were performing at statistically higher levels in reading – approximately three months of additional learning. The study also found that students in the scholarship program the longest performed at reading level approximately 1.5 to 2 full school years ahead of students who applied but were not lucky enough to be admitted to the program. You can watch the 30 minute documentary on the proven success of the DC Opportunity scholarship program, Let Me Rise, here.

But we do not even need to examine the data to know that the powerful in the Obama administration already believe that school choice, while not appropriate for others, is best for their children. All we have to do is look at their actions. Growing up in Hawaii, President Obama attended a private school. Growing up first in Chicago, and now in Washington, Obama’s two daughters attended and still attend a private school. Growing up in Chicago, Secretary Duncan attended a private school. And when he moved to DC, Secretary Duncan chose to live in Arlington, where good schools for his children are assumed. And according to the annual Heritage Foundation survey of Congress and school choice, 38% of Members of the 111th Congress sent one of their own children to private school at one time.

Just last week, the leftist majority in the Senate defeated yet another bi-partisan amendment seeking to save the D.C. Opportunity scholarship program. The left has to kill this program because of studies like the one from the Department of Education mentioned above. The left cannot allow a body of evidence to exist that shows America works best when Americans are given the opportunity to make their own choices. Whether it’s education, health care, energy, food or housing, the left believes the American people are incapable of making their own choices. They believe the federal government must be empowered so that it can step-in to limit and make those choices for them.

It’s time to give all American families the freedom to offer their kids a good education rather than be held captive by union special interests.

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