Of Opportunity and Failure
Twelve million dollars is approximately the maximum amount of money that the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program will spend this year to allow residents of our nation’s capital to attend the schools of their choice including private and parochial schools.
To you and me, $12 million is quite a sum of money, but not in comparison to the current budget of President Barack Obama – that is rife with waste and misappropriated funding. According to the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, his budget contains more than 10,000 earmarks totaling $19,575,786,352. The District of Columbia’s share is $109,794,850. The bulk of these earmarks are medical research and other notable treatment programs that benefit the country as a whole. (Of note two earmarks went to the National Council of La Raza totaling well over $1 million.)
If the D.C. scholarship program was an earmark, it would account for 0.06% of the total of earmarks for 2009. Remember this is earmarks, not the federal budget. It should be pointed out that the elimination of this terribly successful program is not due to budget issues. This program spends approximately $7,500 per child in tuition assistance. The average spent on a child enrolled in a D.C. public school is double that of the tuition assisted child.
In 1869, an essay by John Stuart Mill, entitled On Liberty, approached the subject of public education from a point of view that compulsory education was vital to the health, growth and development of any nation. Mill pointed out that it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that the child is educated properly and to not do so “is a moral crime.” The parents – of the schoolchildren in District of Columbia schools, who have received scholarships to attend the school of their choice – have granted their child the best opportunity to succeed. They have lived up to their end of the societal norm.
Mill also foretold of what would happen once education became universal. He forecast the situation when the discussion would turn from teaching the basics to one which would “convert the subject into a mere battle-field for sects, and parties, causing the time and labor which should have been spent in educating, to be wasted in quarrelling about education.”
On providing for an education, Mill stated that the government should require that every child get a good education and not to be so worried about providing it. The government, Mill says, should leave parents the choice in obtaining an education “where and how they pleased. When it comes to those that can’t afford an education, Mill steps in and points out that this is where it is the duty of the government to assure that the “poorer classes” of children have their cost of education defrayed.
So, why does Congress want to de-fund the Opportunity Scholarship Program and throw out poorer students who have clearly benefited from this program? Simply put, they are threatened. The government is threatened by the notion of success in an institution that may or may not hold to the beliefs of the government.
On Liberty is an essay that, as its title suggests, is about the freedom and liberty of the individual. It is possibly the most definitive work in regard to the individual’s rights. What concerned Mill greatly about universal education was the possibility of the government controlling the education of the masses, suppressing the individuality of character and divergence of opinions. The government, he pointed out, would have the ability to mold people to be exactly like one another, not in physical means but that of identical opinions.
He feared a government that would teach not just science and mathematics and reading, but truly mold the beliefs of the student population to that of the monarch, priesthood, aristocracy or the majority of the existing generation. If efficient, Mill stated it would create “a despotism over the mind.” Because of these pitfalls, a government run education system should be one of many competing systems and a last resort.
The National Education Association (NEA) has consistently fought against vouchers as an option for the parent who looks for an opportunity to get their child out of a failing school. The talking points memo that is available on their website makes five points: 1 – No gain in student achievement; 2 – No accountability; 3 – No reduction in public education costs; 4 – No real choice for parents; 5 – The public does not approve of school choice.
But the true reason that the NEA and other union entities are fighting to eliminate Opportunity Scholarship programs is simple. Monopolies don’t like true competition and any inroads are a threat, not to the individual student, but to the teacher union and its power base of 3.2 million members and its annual budget of over $307 million.
The NEA is arguably the most powerful union in the United States and any attempt to chip away at the power they hold is met with staunch resistance. Even though the 3.2 million members aren’t one homogenous group, their leadership is. This leadership has the ability to not only affect the electoral process but the power to influence the curriculum that our children are exposed to. This is what Mill was worried about some 140 years ago.
The NEA does not care about the single mother in Washington, D.C. whose son or daughter has succeeded beyond expectations as a result of receiving an opportunity scholarship grant this year. They’ll look the other way as these children are shuttled back to a failing D.C. school to fight for their scholastic life because it doesn’t fit the “agenda.” The NEA leadership’s only concern is for its own further power and growth.
If they were truly concerned they could turn over 4% percent – $12 million dollars – of the National Education Association budget and pay for these same students to stay in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
To paraphrase the old worn out mantra remember – “If even one child gets to college that wouldn’t otherwise!”