Yesterday Obama “launched a private-sector program to promote opportunities for men and boys of color, decrying the ‘sense of unfairness and of powerlessness’ that fuels such violent eruptions as the Baltimore riots.”
Fine. But perhaps he could learn from George W. Bush
The scenes of Baltimore set ablaze this week have many Americans thinking: What can be done to rescue families trapped in an inner-city culture of violence, despair and joblessness?
There are no easy answers, but down the road from Baltimore in Washington, D.C., an education program is giving children in poor neighborhoods a big lift up. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which George W. Bush signed into law in 2004, has so far funded private-school tuition for nearly 5,000 students, 95% of whom are African-American. They attend religious schools, music and arts schools, even elite college-prep schools. Last month at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, I met with about 20 parents and children who participate in the program. I also visited several of these families in their homes—which are located in some of the most beaten-down neighborhoods in the city, places that in many ways resemble the trouble spots in Baltimore.
These families have now pulled together to brace for a David vs. Goliath fight to save the program. For the seventh straight year, President Obama has proposed eliminating this relatively tiny scholarship fund, which at $20 million accounts for a microscopic 0.0005% of the $4 trillion federal budget.
So here’s a program that’s already working, but Obama won’t lift a finger.
The parents and students point out that the scholarship program has extraordinary benefits—they use phrases like “a godsend for our children,” “a life saver” and “our salvation.” One father, Joseph Kelley, a tireless champion of the program, says simply, “I truly shudder to think where my son would be today without it.” (He and his son, Rashawn Williams, are pictured at home nearby on this page.)
Virginia Ford, whose son escaped the public schools through a private-scholarship to Archbishop Carroll, now runs a group called D.C. Parents for School Choice. She tells me that “kids in the scholarship program have consistently improved their test scores, have higher graduation rates, and are more likely to attend college than those stuck in the D.C. public schools.”
The numbers back her up. An Education Department-funded study at the University of Arkansas recently found that graduation rates rose 21 percentage points—to 91%, from 70%—for students awarded the scholarship vouchers through a lottery, compared with a control group of those who applied for but didn’t get the scholarships. For all D.C. public schools, the high-school graduation rate is closer to an abysmal 56%.
“If you’ve got a program that’s clearly working and helping these kids, why end it?” asks Pamela Battle, whose son Carlos received a voucher and was able to attend the elite Georgetown Day School. He’s now at Northeastern University in Boston. She says Carlos “almost surely wouldn’t have gone to college” without the voucher. “We send all this money overseas for foreign aid,” she adds, “why not save the kids here at home first?”