Driving home the other morning, I happened to travel behind two cars, each of which bore an old, peeling bumper sticker.
The first one said: “Why Is There Always Money for War, but Not Education?” The other featured the President George W. Bush-era liberal rant: “If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention.”
In the Age of Obama, those crumbling bumper stickers have new relevance for the children who live in Washington, D.C.’s most benighted neighborhoods whose parents have tried to get them into better schools.
If you’re not outraged by the way congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama have been treating D.C.’s voucher families, you’re not paying attention.
This week, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., made another valiant attempt to save the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has provided scholarships for low-income families since 2004 so their children can attend K-12 private or parochial schools.
The vouchers are worth up to $7,500 per child. Many private schools have quietly made up the difference (including help with uniform acquisition and lunch money) so that poor children can experience the same environment as their classmates from middle-class and wealthy families.
Today, some 1,900 children are sitting in calm, safe, orderly classrooms in neighborhoods other than their own because of this program. The cost, in the scheme of things, is laughably small.
Yet, congressional Democrats and Obama are killing it. Lieberman’s colleagues voted down his attempt to attach a voucher-saving amendment to a larger piece of legislation.
It is a scandal. That the children already enrolled in the scheme will be able to finish 12th grade with the scholarship is small comfort. Why only them? Why not their younger brothers and sisters, who will not have the same chance? Why leave these children behind?
The belief underlying the whole system of public schools is that American children deserve an education, and that it’s in the national interest for young citizens to leave school equipped with basic skills and a rough idea of the origins of their civilization.
That America’s public schools cannot deliver these small accomplishments to large numbers of poor and minority children is an indictment of the public schools.
That America’s private and parochial schools can deliver this service in a more satisfactory manner suggests something that makes them different from public schools.
What could this difference be? Public school teachers will say selectivity: Private schools do not have to accept unruly students. No doubt that’s a nuisance.
But public schools have something else in common: Their work force is unionized. Teachers union imperatives seem invariably to trump the interests of children.
Hence, we have the spectacle of the Los Angeles school authorities unable, after four years and $110,000, to fire a single incompetent elementary school special-ed teacher.
We have the infamous “rubber room” in New York, where incompetent and even violent educators languish for years on full pay while their union fights efforts to get them out of classrooms.
The egalitarian principle — that every American child deserves an education — has become a screen behind which incompetence flourishes. Not just incompetence, but, in the case of the D.C. voucher defeat, anti-religious prejudice.
The American Civil Liberties Union is rejoicing at Lieberman’s failure to extend vouchers to D.C. children. Yet, there’s no such thing as Catholic or Episcopalian math. Because of the Democrats (and ACLU lobbyists), D.C. public school children in the worst neighborhoods will be lucky to get any math at all.
Examiner columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon is a former foreign correspondent and a regular contributor to the books pages of the Wall Street Journal.