There are few choices parents make more important than where to send their children to school. The Biden administration's recent proposal to eliminate a popular voucher program would make that decision a lot harder for low-income black families in the nation's capital.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) was created by Congress in 2004 after local parents organized an effort to provide education options for low-income parents. The program has since become a political football. President Obama, whose own daughters attended Sidwell Friends for $40,000 per year, wanted to eliminate the program. He was opposed at every turn by Republicans in Congress. President Trump proposed an increase to the program, and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, publicly affirmed the view that parents — not politicians or government bureaucrats — know what their children need to succeed academically. Now the Biden administration plans to phase the program out in 2023, which would allow current students to finish at their current schools and prevent new students from enrolling in the program.
Joe Biden won 92% of the vote in D.C. and slightly more in the wards where most voucher students live. I wonder if some voters would have made a different choice at the polls if they knew Biden's decision would prevent their younger children from participating in the same program that rescued their older children from failing schools. Those choices matter in a city where less than 30% of black students are reading and doing math at grade level.
The wealthy politicians who oppose school choice have no problem consigning poor black parents to failing government schools, but the only time their children would even get within 100 yards of these schools is if they were doing a volunteer program for "at-risk students." They claim that vouchers drain funding from traditional public schools. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The average size of the award is about $9,500, roughly one-third the cost per student in a traditional public school.
Why do Democrats do this? The answers are simple: identity politics and teachers' unions. The former is the sleight of hand that makes voters think the party has their interests in mind when the melanin levels of the candidates match those of the voters. The left is constantly talking about the diversity of the Democratic Party, but what good is voting for someone who shares your skin color if they don't share your values or promote your agenda? The representation that matters is based on political interests, not personal background.
Democratic politicians play on the emotions of their voters when they claim Republicans want to resurrect Jim Crow and put black people back in chains. They know that rhetoric provokes a sense of fear. That fear makes people easier to control and less likely to ask tough questions about why the party that gets 90% of the black vote is opposed to what its most loyal voters want on such an important issue. The party talks about fighting for the poor and oppressed, but ultimately it promotes the interests of the people who pay them.
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, signaled what it wanted the president to do about school choice prior to last year's election. It recommended opposing the expansion of charter schools and eliminating D.C.'s voucher program in its policy playbook for the incoming Biden-Harris administration. The irony is that nationally, public schoolteachers send their own children to private schools at a rate twice as high as the national average.
The education system has become increasingly political, from the schools that train teachers to the classrooms themselves. At times it is hard to tell whether the point of education is to help children read and write or recruit the next generation of Democratic voters. The unions themselves make that clear. The Chicago Teachers Union, in a tweet it subsequently deleted, called the push to reopen schools "rooted in sexism, racism, and misogyny." Racism in 1921 meant keeping black children out of the schoolhouse, but according to the union, now it means trying to get them back into the classroom. The union that represents teachers in Los Angeles is equally radical. Its school reopening demands included calls to defund the police and limit the growth of charter schools.