DC’s School Voucher Experiment

The Wall Street Journal reports on the battle to keep the DC school vouchers program in operation. Without federal approval, the DC School Opportunity Program will end in 2010. The programs provides 1,500 children with $7,500 per year towards private tuition.

Parents praise the program for improved outcomes and the ability to obtain a better education for their children, “It’s not a competition between public schools, charter and private,” said [parent of two Patricia William]. “Not all schools work the same for all children and we, as parents, should have the right to chose the school that works for them.”

But many in Congress argue the program siphons money away from public schools. The Obama administration plans to phase out the program once the current enrollees graduate.

The controversy highlights the real obstacle to educational reform, entrenched teachers unions and their political advocates. As Marcus Winters writes in City Journal, the stimulus bill pumps $2.9 billion into Head Start, the early childhood literacy program, and another $53.6 billion in Title I for state budgets. However, decades of spending on these programs have produced mixed results and no discernible improvement in student performance.

The elimination of a small program that benefits DC’s students (but challenges a government monopoly) is not about good policy making or money (as the stimulus clearly demonstrates). It is purely a political signal meant to show support for the teacher’s unions, a loyal constituency and client of government.

For more on the DC vouchers controversy, here is NPR’s Juan Williams.