William McGurn wrote this powerful editorial in the Wall Street Journal, calling out President Obama and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin for failing to provide all children with equal access to appropriate classroom instruction.
“Will Obama Stand Up for These Kids?”
Dick Durbin has a nasty surprise for two of Sasha and Malia Obama’s new schoolmates. And it puts the president in an awkward position.
The children are Sarah and James Parker. Like the Obama girls, Sarah and James attend the Sidwell Friends School in our nation’s capital. Unlike the Obama girls, they could not afford the school without the $7,500 voucher they receive from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Unfortunately, a spending bill the Senate takes up this week includes a poison pill that would kill this program — and with it perhaps the Parker children’s hopes for a Sidwell diploma.
Sarah and James Parker attend Sidwell Friends School with the president’s daughters, thanks to a voucher program Sen. Dick Durbin wants to end.
Known as the “Durbin language” after the Illinois Democrat who came up with it last year, the provision mandates that the scholarship program ends after the next school year unless Congress reauthorizes it and the District of Columbia approves. The beauty of this language is that it allows opponents to kill the program simply by doing nothing. Just the sort of sneaky maneuver that’s so handy when you don’t want inner-city moms and dads to catch on that you are cutting one of their lifelines.
Deborah Parker says such a move would be devastating for her kids. “I once took Sarah to Roosevelt High School to see its metal detectors and security guards,” she says. “I wanted to scare her into appreciation for what she has at Sidwell.” It’s not just safety, either. According to the latest test scores, fewer than half of Roosevelt’s students are proficient in reading or math.
That’s the reality that the Parkers and 1,700 other low-income students face if Sen. Durbin and his allies get their way. And it points to perhaps the most odious of double standards in American life today: the way some of our loudest champions of public education vote to keep other people’s children — mostly inner-city blacks and Latinos — trapped in schools where they’d never let their own kids set foot.
This double standard is largely unchallenged by either the teachers’ unions or the press corps. For the teachers’ unions, it’s a fairly cold-blooded calculation. They’re willing to look the other way at lawmakers who chose private or parochial schools for their own kids — so long as these lawmakers vote in ways that keep the union grip on the public schools intact and an escape hatch like vouchers bolted.
As for the press, complaints tend to be limited to the odd column or editorial. That’s one reason it was so startling back in 2000 when Time magazine’s Tamala Edwards, during a live televised debate at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, asked Al Gore about the propriety of sending his own son to private school while opposing any effort to extend the same choice to African-Americans without his financial wherewithal. As CNN’s Jeff Greenfield would note later in the same debate, Mr. Gore “bristled” when Ms. Edward’s put the question to him.
Virginia Walden-Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, wouldn’t mind making a few more politicians bristle. “I’d like to see a reporter stand up at one of those nationally televised press conferences and ask President Obama what he thinks about what his own party is doing to keep two innocent kids from attending the same school where he sends his?”
As for Sidwell, the school has welcomed the Opportunity Scholarship program. Though headmaster Bruce Stewart declines to get into either politics or the Obamas, he says that a program that gives parents more educational options for their children is not only good for their kids, it’s good for the community. Plainly he’s not doing it for the money: Even the full D.C. voucher covers only a small fraction of Sidwell’s actual costs.
All of which leaves the First Parent with a decision to make: Will he stand up for those like his own children’s schoolmates — or stand in front of the Sidwell door with Mr. Durbin? It’s hard to imagine white congressional Democrats going up against him if he called them out on an issue where they have put him in this embarrassing position. This, after all, is a man who has written of the “anger” he felt as a community organizer, when his attempts to improve things for Chicago school kids ran up against an “uncomfortable fact.”
“The biggest source of resistance [to reform],” he said, “was rarely talked about . . . namely, the uncomfortable fact that every one of our churches was filled with teachers, principals, and district superintendents. Few of these educators sent their own children to public schools; they knew too much for that. But they would defend the status quo with the same skill and vigor as their white counterparts of two decades before.”
Let’s just say that Sarah and James Parker — and thousands just like them — could use some of that same Obama anger right about now.