Scrooge-like National Education Association shows no sign of remorse.

Once upon a time, school choice became a reality in our nation’s capital. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allowed some poor kids in D.C. to go to private schools with the help of a government stipend, was ushered in by a Republican controlled Congress in January 2004. Earlier this year, Jason Richwine at the Heritage Foundation wrote,

Congress put school vouchers to the test in 2004 when it authorized the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), a federally funded voucher program serving low-income students in the nation’s capital. It has awarded $7,500 scholarships to more than 3,700 students over the past six years.”

Congress mandated a formal evaluation of the program, and researchers hired by the Department of Education have now released their latest report.

Among the report’s key findings:

•Parental satisfaction. School satisfaction was higher among parents of voucher students.
•School safety. Parents of voucher students were more likely to describe their children’s schools as safe and orderly.
•Graduation rates. Voucher-using students achieved a graduation rate of 91 percent, compared to 70 percent for non-voucher students.
•Test scores. On reading tests, voucher students scored slightly higher (by 0.13 standard deviations) compared to non-voucher students, but the difference is not statistically significant. DCOSP did not produce any gains in mathematics scores.

Not only do students benefit from the program, taxpayers save money. According to Kirk Johnson, also at Heritage,

What is often overlooked, however, is that choice programs are good fiscal policy, as well. Consider the example of Washington, D.C., again. The maximum opportunity scholarship-$7,500-is less than 60 percent of what Washington’s public schools spend on a student.

So, let’s see – a program that benefits students and saves the taxpayers money. Who on earth could possibly be against it? Not surprisingly, it’s School Choice Enemy #1 – the National Educational Association.

Shamelessly, in its current Education Insider, NEA brags that due to its members lobbying, it

stopped multiple efforts to fund voucher programs— in the District of Columbia ….

While some NEA members probably did write and call their legislators, urging them to kill the program, the heavy artillery came from the union bosses themselves. In March of 2009, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress -

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program. We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.
Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.

Three months later, the Congress, then controlled by Democrats, dutifully voted to kill the program.

Interestingly, in the same Education Insider that bragged about killing DCOSP, NEA was very pleased that more government money had been invested in Pell Grants. A Pell Grant is nothing more than a federal scholarship awarded to college students, who may then use the grant to go to the college of their choice.

The difference between Pell and DCOSP, you ask? NEA is more threatened by vouchers on a K-12 level because that’s where the primary source of its funding is. (Public school teachers are forced to pay union dues in most states and D.C.) Any political action that favors school privatization, bringing with it more non-unionized teachers, sends the union into an activist frenzy. For an organization that claims to be for the children, this is especially cruel and hypocritical.

As Christmas approaches, one can only dream that NEA will have an Ebenezer Scrooge-like makeover. At the end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge found religion, but the NEA never will. Not even the Ghost of Ed Reform Future could budge the cold, self-absorbed and mean-spirited teachers’ union.

Yet there is some hope. In January, a new Republican majority Congress convenes. The Republicans, typically not in the thrall of the powerful teachers’ union, are talking about reviving the popular DCOSP.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful late Christmas gift for thousands of kids, currently stuck in lousy schools, to be given an opportunity to escape them and with it a chance for a brighter future?

January 23rd-29th is National School Choice Week, during which advocates will attempt to build support for school choice. If you would like to help the kids in D.C. and elsewhere, and at the same time let NEA know what you think of their priorities, I urge you to get involved.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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