NBC News is dedicating this week to education reform under the banner "Education Nation." The Heritage Foundation is offering a counterbalance to NBC's coverage, and even invited me to write on the topic of school choice as a guest blogger. A new documentary on education reform, "Waiting for Superman", is in theaters now and is generating a lot of discussion on the state of education in America today.
Education is a topic that touches everyone. Even if you don't have children, what they do with their lives affects our government, our economy and public safety. I thought it would be enlightening to see what our congressman, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, has done to expand options and opportunities for children in education.
This isn't an issue that is foreign to the 5th Congressional District. The range of school performance in the district varies widely, from the Calvert County public schools, which are touted as among the best in the state, to Prince George's County's public schools, which are fighting their way up from the bottom.
Prince George's County's 2007 high school dropout rate, specifically the percentage of ninth-graders who didn't receive high school diplomas four years later, places them in the top 25 of the approximately 11,000 school districts in the nation. People and institutions will debate these numbers, because people and institutions are prideful and don't want to look bad.
I couldn't care less about that. There are children behind these numbers, and their inability to finish school condemns them to a life sentence I don't wish on anyone's child. Poverty, dependency, crime and untimely death await these children, and our political leadership is criminally negligent because they put their ideologies or the special interests that support them before the lives of these children.
A quality educationwith specific emphasis on qualityis the key that unlocks the door to opportunity for our children. Statistics show that children who get a high school diploma, secure a job, marry, and have children, in that order, are four times less likely to be poor than others who don't follow those steps. I don't need to tell you the positive impact of reduced poverty on government budgets and community growth and stability.
So what has Steny Hoyer done to help children unlock that door?
He's clearly against school choice. He consistently votes "no" on vouchers for private & parochial schools, and he's a staunch opponent of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is supported by 70 percent of District residents. The program allows poor children in the District of Columbia, mostly black, to sit alongside the children of congressmen, senators and the president, and get a quality education in what national school choice activist and former D.C. city councilman Kevin Chavous calls "the best schools they have ever known."
By comparison, the DC schools are among the most dangerous in the nation, and only 17 percent of fourth graders and 14 percent of eighth graders achieve proficiency in reading. The DC Public School System costs about $15,000 per pupil, compared to $7,500 per student for the DC scholarship program. As Virginia Walden Ford, a black community activist and leader for school choice in DC, and Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation wrote:
Fifty years ago, African Americans fought to enroll their children in public schools that would give their children an equal chance for a quality education. Boys and girls stood in the doorways of previously all-white schools that didn't want them, on the threshold of opportunity.Why did Steny Hoyer oppose giving these children a shot at a quality education? Parent satisfaction with the DC program is high, mainly because their children are safe and therefore in the best environment for learning to take place.
But today's schools are not the same schools they fought to get into. Too many of today's schools are failing African American and Hispanic students. In the 1950s, politicians stood at the door to keep African American students out. Now, they are standing at the door to keep them in.
The findings of a Department of Education study on the program showed these children, in the words of the Washington Post, "had significantly better chances of graduating from high school."
The Washington Post said the program should continue, and that it is "wrong-headed to deny future students this opportunity."
Does that make Steny Hoyer "wrong-headed"? I think it does.
Another lame excuse for rejecting school choice is that such programs harm the public school system by taking away resources needed for reform.
We've been pouring resources into the public school system for decades now, and the schools in the most troubled areas of the nation have shown little to no progress whatsoever. The DC schools could take the $22 million previously allocated for the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program and add it to their budget, and I'm confident we won't see $22 million worth of progress in educating the children.
I can't emphasize this strongly enough; this issue isn't about preserving public schools. It's about giving children access to a quality education today - not years down the road or at some undetermined point in time when government-run schools get their act together.
They can't possibly think we have the luxury of losing another generation of children to hopelessness. These are flesh-and-blood human beings, and government isn't supposed to stand in the way of their best option for escaping the cycle of despair in which they find themselves.
If Steny Hoyer and others of his ilk don't have the integrity to put the children's immediate well-being first, or the guts to resist the special interests that care more about self-preservation than educating children, then they are unworthy of our support.
If he thinks his liberal political bona fides are more important that these desperate children in DC, what is the likelihood he really gives a rip about any of us, except as it pertains to his re-election? Think about it.
Ron Miller is a conservative writer and commentator, author of the book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Toms Porch, and the president of Regular Folks United, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty, free markets and our nation's founding principles. The nine-year plus veteran of the U.S. Air Force and married father of three writes columns for several online sites and print publications, and his own website, TeamRonMiller.com. Join him on Facebook and Twitter.