Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) cast the deciding vote and broke the deadlock in the Senate Appropriations Committee over the very modest voucher program proposed by President Bush for the District of Columbia. The bill now heads for debate on the Senate floor. While spending per student in the District is among the highest in the nation, test scores are among the lowest in the nation.
D.C. public schools have requested well over $1 billion for 2004. The paltry sum of $15 million is proposed for students of failing public schools to choose alternative schools. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has a particularly strong school system filled with non-Catholic students. It is likely, if the voucher system survives, most of the students will end up in the Catholic schools where real learning still takes place.
The survival of the program is by no means assured, however. Lobbying by the teachers' unions against it is fierce. That is why the Heritage Foundation has done an excellent public service by issuing a "Backgrounder" entitled "How Members of Congress Practice School Choice." Heritage got a remarkable response to its survey on the school choice, undoubtedly because it pledged that it would not disclose the names of those who responded.
The Heritage survey revealed that 42% of the Members of Congress who are parents have sent at least one of their children to a private school. That compares with the general population where only about 10% of parents ever send at least one of their children to a private school.
Heritage compared the list of those who admitted that they sent at least one child to a private school with the roll call votes on parental choice legislation. Heritage concluded, "In the past three years, every piece of parental choice legislation would have passed if those who exercised choice in their own families had voted with supporters of school choice."
If ever an example of an elitist attitude was needed, here it is. Private schools are good for their children but not for the children of others. And, of course, in recent times the parental choice measures have almost exclusively centered on low income families who are locked into failing inner city schools, where discipline and order and learning have long ago ceased to exist. Parents who care to improve the education of their children do not have the resources to get their children into a school where it is possible for them to learn.
Despite this, these hypocritical members of Congress would deny help to the least fortunate among us. Many of these same members are the ones who attempt to lecture the rest of us about our insensitivity to the poor.
In listening to the debate about the D.C. school system, where liberal Democrat Mayor Anthony Williams has come out in favor of the voucher plan, I heard the head of the Washington Federation of Teachers virtually scream that the $15 million proposed for the voucher system was being robbed from the public schools. What nonsense! Per student, spread over the entire system that $15 million would add only a few dollars to the second highest per student spending school system in the nation. Robbed indeed. And what would they do if this $15 million were given to them? Would there be any more discipline in the inner city schools? Would students learn to read sooner or at all? Could they write an essay? Mind you, this $15 million is proposed over and above the D.C. school budget. They don't lose a dime if it is passed. Indeed, they will end up with more money per capita because they will have fewer students to deal with after some withdraw in favor of private, mostly parochial, schools.
If money had any connection with learning, then D.C. children should be at the top of their game. North Dakota per capita spending is among the lowest in the nation, yet test scores from its public schools have been among the highest.
As the Heritage Foundation report points out, the Supreme Court has upheld vouchers as Constitutional. Thus far eleven states have enacted either state-funded scholarship programs or tax credits for education expenses, or contributions to scholarship funds. That is in addition to the numerous privately sponsored voucher plans in Milwaukee, Indianapolis, New York City and elsewhere which are helping low income families escape failing public schools.
Those of you who know me know that I am a stickler for people keeping their word. I must say, however, in this case I am sorely tempted to plead with Heritage to break its word and disclose the names of those Members of Congress who vote to deprive poor kids of a way out of dreadful schools, while sending their own children to something other than the public schools, especially those in D.C. Maybe if their names were published they would be embarrassed enough to vote for parental choice measures, including the one for D.C. But what am I thinking? Members of Congress embarrassed by hypocrisy? Don't bother to break your word, Heritage.