Black, Hispanic Leaders Blast Obama Opposition to D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program

It isn’t very often that you hear African-American and Hispanic leaders criticizing Barack Obama or the Obama Administration. But that’s what happened immediately after the official announcement by the Obama Administration opposing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is a very successful school voucher initiative that served low-income children in the District of Columbia. A joint statement from the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options surprised many.

The statement was issued by Kevin P. Chavous, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Julio Fuentes, president of Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.

Both organizations support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, calling on Congress to both restore and extend it. The Opportunity Scholarship Program is a public policy school voucher system.

They say President Obama is actively fighting against them, and his stance against school choice and education reform at hypocritical. The groups want Obama to stand up to well-funded special interest groups. They called for social justice, and to allow low-income and minority children access to better schools.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program provides access to better schools for low-income and minority children. Sheeting it home to President Obama, they noted that he attended private schools thanks to the availability of scholarships.

Obama appears to have backtracked on his education promise, made when he was a Senator. As a presidential candidate, a little over three years ago, Senator Obama promised to “fund what works in education, regardless of ideology.” Now he is President, he has reneged on the principle he set himself.

According to the African-American and Hispanic leaders more than 28 percent of District of Columbia public schools report innovating as a result of this program. Parents are also very happy with the program, expressing overwhelming satisfaction.

opportunity scholar obi mbanefo wants to be a lawyer, says eliminating the opportunity scholarship program is unfair
Opportunity scholar Obi Mbanefo wants to be a lawyer, says eliminating Opportunity Scholarship Program is unfair.

Fiscal hawks should be very happy to support this program, because the cost of educating children is less than half of the per-child cost of local Public Schools. Thanks to this program, students gaining several additional months of learning in reading.

Frustrated with President Obama’s weakness, the groups say he lacks the courage to stand up for a great program. DC is not the only place school choice is showing stellar results. Similar schools in Florida, Wisconsin and Louisiana also see major improvements over public schools. In the past 12 months, 93 percent of Louisiana parents who send their children to private schools are satisfied with their children’s education.

Putting further pressure on Obama, and education secretary, Arne Duncan, thy said the facts on education reform don’t lie. During Obama and Duncan’s tenure, African-American and Hispanic dropout rates have not changed, and half of all children of color never receive high school diplomas. During this time, more than two dozen other countries continue to outpace America in math and literacy, despite more money being spent on education than at any other time in the nation’s history. They note that real results, as provided by school choice programs, cannot be bought.

Here is the joint statement:

“President Barack Obama’s opposition to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is hypocritical and it is wrong. If President Obama continues his fight against school choice and education reform, history will long remember him as someone who failed to stand up to richly funded special interest groups and, in the process, denied low-income and minority children access to better schools. As leaders in the African-American and Hispanic communities, we call on the president to reverse his position – not as a matter of ideology, but as a matter of social justice.

President Obama attended private schools using scholarships. As a parent, President Obama exercises school choice for his own daughters. But when it comes to other children in Washington, D.C. – most of whom are African-American and Hispanic – our president apparently does not believe these children deserve the same high-quality opportunities. As a candidate, Senator Obama promised to ‘fund what works in education, regardless of ideology.’ But as President, the same principle and the same sound logic seemingly doesn’t apply.

When it comes to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), the President’s views aren’t only wrong – his facts are faulty. The OSP yields a 91 percent student graduation rate for children who use their vouchers, which is 30 percentage points higher than graduation rates for students in D.C.’s public schools. Parental satisfaction with the OSP is overwhelming. More than 28 percent of public schools have reported innovating as a result of the program. And students are gaining several additional months of learning in reading. To top it off, the program educates children at less than half of the per-child cost of the D.C. Public Schools.

By any metric, by any measure, and by any reasonable standard, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be a model for the nation. Instead, it is on life support – thanks in no small part to the actions and inactions of President Barack Obama – who has opted to ignore inconvenient realities instead of taking courageous stands.

If President Obama were to summon the courage, he would see that, nationally, the research on school choice programs is just as sterling as the facts surrounding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. In Florida, school choice programs have been shown to increase student achievement and spur public schools to improve. In Wisconsin, students participating in a voucher program are graduating at rates that are 18 percent higher than in traditional public schools. In Louisiana, a stunning 93 percent of parents who send their children to private schools are satisfied with their children’s education. And this research is just from the past year!

School choice works. We just need more of it, so that fewer low-income children are confined to schools that fail, year after year after year.

No matter what President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, say about education reform, facts don’t lie. During this president’s tenure, the dropout rate for African-American and Hispanic children has remained the same. Half of all children of color do not achieve high school diplomas. During this president’s tenure, more than two dozen other countries continue to outpace America in math and literacy. Opportunity does not abound for all of our citizens. During this president’s tenure, more money has been spent on education than at any other time in our nation’s history. But real results – the type seen in school choice programs like the OSP – simply cannot be bought.

For more than three decades, we, as community leaders, have waited for the tide of public education to turn from failing and inadequate to effective and inclusive. We’ve waited for public schools to fix themselves. We’ve waited for politicians to make good on their promises that more time, and more money, will solve our educational woes. We’ve waited for an enormous achievement gap between African-American and Hispanic children to close through traditional programs. We’re done waiting now, because each day we wait, more children are lost.

We want our children educated by any means necessary – not five years from now, but today. We don’t believe it’s morally acceptable to allow one more month, one more year, one more decade to pass as platitudes are substituted for public policy. We support all educational options for children, including school vouchers. We support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. We call on Congress to restore it and to extend it, and we call on other states to emulate it.”

The Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options collaborated to issue this statement.

Alan Gray is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of NewsBlaze Daily News and other online newspapers. He prefers to edit, rather than write, but sometimes an issue rears it’s head and makes him start hammering away on the keyboard.

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