While all of the attention on Capitol Hill yesterday focused on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on torture and how it is not only immoral and illegal, it doesn’t work. But, down the hall there was another hearing that warranted more attention that it got.
At the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, senators heard testimony about the value of the DC Voucher program that helps underprivileged children in under-performing schools attend private and parochial schools where they have a chance at a better education. Democrats beholden to the teachers’ unions have long-standing hostility to such programs, even though some Democrats have taken on the teachers’ union, including President Obama, on the issue of merit pay. Still, the Democratic-dominated Congress slated the program for extinction, President Obama has called for a compromise, allowing funding for those already in the program through their graduation from high school, but no new enrollees.
At the hearing yesterday, two students at Archbishop Carroll High School testified how the vouchers have changed their lives. A mother of an 8-year old said she her local public school was unsafe and would be devastated if her child had to be pulled from the private school he attends. The principal of Sidwell Friends, where the Obama children go, also attended to speak on behalf of the vouchers.
I do not believe that the federal government has an obligation to the Catholic Church, still less to the well-funded Sidwell Friends, to support religious or other private schools. But, the government does have an obligation to provide an education and as long as they are failing to do so in their own schools, it seems unfair to punish children for their failure. And to be clear, the children to be punished are poor children. Children born into wealth will always find a way to get a good education.
Elections matter, and the unions worked harder than anyone to secure a Democratic Congress. They write checks. They organize groups to knock on doors. They educate their members. They buy ads on television. In addition to all that, their support for social justice has earned them the right to be heard. But, on this issue, they are wrong. I understand why the administration will not pick a fight with them when it is fighting about merit pay. But, the members of the Senate should find a way to maintain this program which helps desperately poor children have a better life.