Mercedes Campbell is one of the 1,700 students in the Washington, D.C. Opportunity
Scholarship Program, a school-voucher program authorized by Congress in
2004. The program gives students up to $7,500 to attend whatever school their
parents choose. For kids like Mercedes, who now attends Georgetown Visitation
Prep, the DC voucher program is a way out of one of the worst school districts
in the country.
"It's different, now that I go to Visitation," says Mercedes. "I approach
things differently. It's like a whole new world, basically."
The program is wildly popular with parents and children—there are four
applicants for every available slot—and a recent Department
of Education study found that participants do significantly better than
their public school peers. Indeed, after three years in private schools,
students who entered the program at its inception were 19 months ahead in
reading of applicants unlucky enough to still be trapped in D.C.'s public
Yet working with congressional Democrats and despite his pledge to put
politics and ideology aside in education, the Obama administration has effectively
killed the program through a backdoor legislative move. "[Education]
Secretary [Arne] Duncan will use only one test in what ideas to support with
your precious tax dollars," says the president. "It's not whether it's liberal
or conservative, but whether it works."
That sort of doublespeak has left many Obama supporters not just puzzled but
outraged. Certainly, Mercedes is. "Out of everything else they can shut down or
everything else they can advocate for, they want to take this one thing away?"
Adds her mother, Ingrid, "We voted for you, we walked, we went to the parade, we
stood freezing. Why?...Can you get this tape over to Obama and have him answer
our questions? Why, sir, why?"
Barack Obama and the DC School Voucher Program was produced by Dan Hayes and Nick Gillespie.