After having presented a budget to Congress that would phase out a school-choice program that allows a limited number of children to escape Washington, D.C.'s public schools, President Barack Obama delivered a weekly address today that said all Americans have a responsibility to make sure all children—not just their own—get a great education.
Obama’s two daughters go to Sidwell Friends, one of the most expensive private schools in Washington, D.C.
“All of us have a responsibility to not only make sure our own children have pathways to success but that all children do,” Obama said, while sitting in a public library in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C. “And a great education is the ticket to a better life like never before.
“Making sure all our kids receive one is the surest way to show them that their lives matter. And it’s the smartest way to prove to them that in communities like this, and in a country like ours, we believe in opportunity for all.”
Obama's address was titled: "Ensuring Every Child Gets a Great Education."
In 2003, Congress enacted a program for “opportunity scholarships” in Washington, D.C. These allowed some students in public schools to get a voucher to help offset the cost of attending a private school. When President Barack Obama came to office in 2009, he tried to kill the program, then settled on a plan that would allow then-current recipients of the vouchers to continue, but would not allow new people into the program. When Republicans took back control of the U.S. House of Representatives, they renewed the program and extended it through 2016.
However, Obama’s latest budget proposal calls for phasing it out again—and preventing children in D.C. public schools from escaping to private ones.
“The Obama administration has tried for years to sunset the program, and the president's fiscal 2013 budget request zeroed out funding for the program, though the proposal was never carried out,” Education Week reported last month.
“The fiscal 2016 budget request includes $43.2 million, down from $45 million last year, and $3.2 million of that must be used to carry out an evaluation of the program,” reported Education Week. “In addition, the proposal specifically states that the money will be made available until it's all used up, an attempt to sunset the program once again and block new enrollees.”
Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation has noted that more families in D.C. would like to participate in the program than currently have the opportunity to do so.
“Nearly 6,000 kids from lower-income families have benefited from these scholarships–which reach more than $8,300 a year for primary school and more than $12,500 a year for high school,” writes Moore. “That’s still about one-third lower overall than what it costs per pupil to educate students in Washington, D.C.’s public schools.”
“Almost all – 97.4 percent--of the D.C. students who get the scholarship money are blacks and Latinos,” says Moore. “Even more would like to take advantage of the program: Every year four times as many D.C. minority children sign up for the voucher program as there are funded slots available.”
The price this year for attending Sidwell Friends, where President Obama’s children are enrolled, is $37,750 per student.