Vote on education program needed soon

Freedom New Mexico

Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s education secretary (a position that shouldn’t exist at the federal level, but is hardly likely to be abolished), has been somewhat less the tool of the education establishment and teachers unions than might have been expected. He has pushed for higher standards in testing regimens and more accountability for teachers.

On one issue, however, he and the administration have been craven and, perhaps, even cruel. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program since 2004 has allowed some 1,300 District of Columbia students, mostly poor minorities, to attend private schools through a tuition voucher program. Some of these children have moved from dangerous government schools to safer private schools, all have found a healthier learning environment, and the parents of these children are almost universally grateful for the program.

Because the District is a federal enclave, funding for the program has come through the federal budget. However, the administration asked for only $9 million in its education budget, deemed to be enough to cover only those already enrolled, and said this would be “the final request” for the program. Teachers unions, significant supporters of the Democratic Party, hate voucher programs as much as vampires hate sunlight, and their opposition to this successful program seems to have been the deciding factor.

However, a bipartisan coalition headed by nominally Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, has crafted an amendment to restore the program. Other co-sponsors of the legislation include Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and John Ensign, R-Nev. D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, former Mayor Tony Williams and most D.C. council members also support the program. The generally liberal Washington Post has also been a strong supporter.

However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who earlier made a commitment to Sen. Lieberman to allow a vote on the amendment, so far he has not done so. On Tuesday, Sen. Lieberman tried to tack his amendment onto something called the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act, but it was ruled out as “not germane” to the underlying legislation.

The Washington Post’s editorial says Sen. Reid is reluctant to schedule a vote because it would be embarrassing for many Democrats, in obedience to the teachers unions that pull their strings, to vote against a program with a strong record of helping poor minority children. Whatever the reason, Sen. Reid should relent and allow a vote soon on the bipartisan Lieberman amendment.