In Case You Missed It: Democrats fail on school program

(Washington | CNN) – Fifty-six years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court 
affirmed in Brown v. Board of Education what our founders declared 
self-evident – that all men are created equal.

Until President Lincoln and the Republican Party abolished the horror of 
slavery, my ancestors were legally treated as mere chattel. Sadly, 
emancipation didn’t translate to equality back then, especially in the 
Democratically controlled segregated states. And tragically, Brown v. 
Board of Education was not the end of the story.

Today, education has emerged as the civil rights battle for the 21st 
century. Access to a quality education is something all parents want for 
their children. In some communities, public schools are great. But in 
many, they are failing, and to that end parents should be empowered to 
put their children in charter, private or parochial schools no matter 
where they live.

President Obama had the freedom to attend private schools and is assured 
that same freedom for his two daughters. My wife and I made the same 
choice for our own children, in part because of the choice my parents 
were able to make for me, thanks to a scholarship program at 
Washington’s Archbishop Carroll High School.

While some remarkable students manage to succeed within a public school 
that seems more like a war zone, expecting that heroic feat of most 
children is simply too great a burden. Indeed, a 2009 study by the 
Schott Foundation for Public Education found that only 16 percent of 
African-American students in Washington 
 have “access 
to well-resourced, high-performing schools.”

In 2003, I was proud when our Republican Congress provided hope to some 
of the remaining 84 percent by instituting a program permitting a small 
number of low-income, mostly African-American families in D.C. to send 
their children to private or parochial schools.

To quell howls of protest from defenders of the status quo, the program 
was funded by a new appropriation rather than shifting funds from the 
public school budget to the vouchers. In other words, for every child 
who entered the program, the public school system gained money they 
otherwise would have spent on that child.

Despite the modest amounts invested in the Opportunity Scholarship 
program, it has been an unqualified success.

It has boosted student achievement and provided hope to poor children 
who otherwise would have faced bleak futures. The program has earned the 
support of Democratic D.C. mayors as well as D.C.’s public school 
chancellor. Even the resolutely liberal editorial board of The 
Washington Post has strongly backed the program, stating:

“Democrats should spare us their phony concern about the children 
participating in the District’s school voucher program. If they cared 
for the future of these students, they wouldn’t be so quick as to try to 
kill the program that affords low income, minority children a chance at 
a better education. … [T]he debate unfolding on Capitol Hill isn’t 
about facts. It’s about politics and the stranglehold the teachers 
unions have on the Democratic Party.”

The special-interest government unions that fund Democratic campaigns 
insist that payback requires throwing poor minority students under a 
failing public school bus. Democrats have kept their end of the 
campaign-cash deal. In one of the earliest acts in Obama’s term, 
Democrats enacted legislation that killed the Opportunity Scholarship 
program and abandoned struggling minority families who had the audacity 
to hope for a better life for their children.

It was a deeply cynical act Democrats did not even bother to try to 
justify. When the Senate held a hearing on the program, the 
administration did not send a single witness to defend the 
administration’s position.

Obama , having 
made millions on two autobiographies with “Hope” and “Dreams” in their 
titles, has denied the hopes and dreams of poor, minority families who 
simply seek the opportunity that he and I and so many other Americans 
had — quality education despite our families’ income.

Fifty-six years after Brown v. Board of Education, Democrats are again 
standing in the schoolhouse door and on the wrong side of history. 
That’s why it is critically important we stand on the right side of 
history and elect Republican candidates to office.

To read Chairman Steele’s Op Ed on CNN.com, please click here.

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