(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration announced on Tuesday it has reserved 3,000 free tickets to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll for students in D.C.-area public and charter schools, but not for children who attend private or parochial schools.
Why exclude children in private and parochial schools, asked the father of a parochial school student at Tuesday’s press conference where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty announced the ticket giveaway.
“These tickets are from the White House to public schools, and we’re appreciative, but there may be other things unrelated to this press conference,” Fenty responded. “That’s a great question.”
The 3,000 reserved tickets will be distributed to students at 11 public schools in D.C. and a few others in Virginia and Maryland. Children at private or parochial schools in the Washington metropolitan area may attend the April 5 event, but only if they are among the people who registered for an online lottery system, by which the remaining free tickets -- an estimated 27,000 -- will be distributed.
That lottery is now closed, however. “All entries will have an equal chance of being selected if your application was submitted by Sunday, February 28,” the White House Web site says. Lottery results were announced on March 4.
Robert Brannum’s 17-year-old son Nicholas attends St. John’s College High School, a Catholic school in the District. Brannum told CNSNews.com he believes the 3,000 tickets reserved for public school students should be available to all students.
“The White House is a public building,” Brannum said. “The tickets are essentially being paid for with public dollars. So it should be open to everyone, not just going to select categories of students.”
Brannum said he not only supports D.C. public schools, he attended and taught at those schools. But, he added, “There are students in the District of Columbia who attend private schools, parochial schools, or even (are) home schooled, and their parents pay taxes and they should be able to participate in some of the benefits of being citizens of the District of Columbia.”
Mayor Fenty and D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee accepted the 3,000 tickets in an Easter basket from Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Children from the city’s J.O. Wilson Elementary School cheered and jumped up and down when they were asked if they wanted to go to the Easter Egg Roll at the White House.
There’s no guarantee that the children at the press conference will get tickets, however. Rhee said it was up to each of the public schools chosen by the Obama administration to decide which students will get the reserved tickets.
The Obama administration has been criticized for failing to support programs to help low-income and minority children attend some of D.C.’s top private and parochial schools, including the Sidwell Friends School where the Malia and Sasha Obama attend classes.
Early in his administration, President Barack Obama called for an end to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which since 2004 has provided vouchers for thousands of low-income and minority children to attend private schools. Following widespread protest, Obama said the program would be funded to allow those children already enrolled in the program to graduate from the school of their choice, but that no funding would be provided to bring new children into the program.
On March 16, the Senate voted down a measure that would have reauthorized funding for the program.
The Easter Egg Roll dates back to 1878 when President Rutherford B. Hayes held the event after Congress banned egg rolling on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol building.
The theme of this year’s event is “Ready, Set, Go,” and the White House says it will “promote health and wellness.”
“All of the activities will encourage children to lead healthy and active lives and follow the First Lady’s ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative, a national campaign to combat childhood obesity,” the White House said.
The event will feature live music, sports courts, storytelling, egg rolling – and cooking stations.