Unlike politicians, budgets don’t lie. They reveal both the priorities and values of those who make them. Give me a household budget and I can tell you what the parents prioritize and value. The same is true for a government’s budget.
What then to make of President Barack Obama’s decision to exclude the D.C. scholarship program from his budget this year?
It can’t be the cost. At $20 million a year, it is a pittance compared to the proposed $68.9 billion a year proposed for his Department of Education. It must be something else.
Obama knows full well that his budget won’t pass muster. His last one failed to get a single vote in the Senate. This one will assuredly fail, too. Indeed, it was designed to fail so that President Obama could run against a “do-nothing” Congress. Knowing this, Obama could easily have put the D.C. voucher program in the budget. He therefore must have chosen not to. In Obama’s previous federal aid plan, $20 million went to public schools, charters and vouchers, but in this years new budget, Obama gives millions to public and charter schools but not one penny to vouchers. Why not? Could it be that the teachers unions, who give overwhelmingly to Democrats, are committed to giving him money in what promises to be a tough election year?
Unlike much of what goes in the federal budget and what does not, the voucher program has been wildly successful by virtually any measure. A 2010 study published by a professor from the University of Arkansas found that the scholarship recipients had graduation rates of 91%, compared to only 56% of the D.C. public schools. And they do it for less money than the D.C. public schools ($8,000 per scholarship student, compared to nearly $25,000 per public school student.)
So effective is this program that President Obama’s own Department of Education suppressed a study showing its success, according to The Wall Street Journal. Even Michelle Rhee, who President Obama has backed, now publicly acknowledges that the voucher program was successful, something she found politically impossible to do when she administered the D.C. public schools thanks to the union power. More than 3000 children have benefited from this program.
Obama knows the power of school choice. He went to private schools all of his life. His wife, thanks to her father’s involvement in the Democratic Party, attended magnet schools alongside the children of Jesse Jackson in Chicago. Their daughters attend the tony Sidwell & Friends where the tuition is $31-32,000 per child, a price tag out of reach of most Americans (though a few lucky D.C. scholarship recipients have been permitted to attend).
For all the talk of liberals like Jonathan Kozol, author of The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, which bemoans white flight to the suburbs and who call education vouchers “the single worst, most dangerous idea to have entered education discourse in my adult life,” there’s one party that believes in educational apartheid: the Democrat Party. Its enforcers are the Congressional Black Caucus and the first black president and their teacher union enablers.
President Obama understands this about politics: it’s about punishing your enemies and rewarding your friends. Fortunately, the Republican leadership understands that something higher is at stake. John Boehner has pledged to continue funding the scholarship, even though virtually every recipient of the school vouchers will pull the lever for Obama in 2012, much as they did in 2008.