Public Education's Berlin Wall

America has had an interesting dilemma throughout its history: All of the impoverished people in the world have wanted to come here to prosper. But The United States simply cannot accommodate them all; their numbers simply would overwhelm us. So we do our best to admit the huddled masses yearning to be free.


At the same time the flood of people entering over our southern border is so great that we have had to construct walls to slow the flow.


Communist nations have had the opposite problem. They create such horrible conditions for their people that they need to do everything in their power to keep people from fleeing. Attempting escape from North Korea can be a death sentence for you or your entire family. In 1961, communist East Berlin even built the famous Berlin Wall to prevent people from leaving the city for freedom and opportunity in West Berlin, Western Europe and the US. The Berlin wall essentially was a prison wall because like prison, there is no freedom under communism.


Today our public education system has set up its own Berlin Wall to prevent students from leaving. Every time any challenge to the public school system is proposed, the teacher unions use their massive financial and political clout to stop it.


Charter schools, school vouchers, scholarship programs, religious schools, home schooling all are opposed. Because the demand to leave the public system is almost endless and the teacher unions know that unless they put up their own educational Berlin Wall that the public schools will be further exposed for the massive and expensive failure that they are and that millions of students would leave.


Recently in his address to the nation, president Obama expressed support for charter schools as alternatives to the public system. Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan, who formerly headed the Chicago public schools, has expressed similar sentiments. But these are just the public and political positions of these two men, who are beholden to the Democrat teacher unions and their iron grip on the educational system. Neither Obama nor Duncan genuinely supports any alternative.


Now it turns out that the recent omnibus spending bill that came before the US senate in early March contains a clause that scuttles a scholarship program to give poor children – overwhelmingly black children – in the Washington, DC public schools access to private and religious schools. Sarah and James Parker, brother and sister, attend the prestigious private Sidwell Friends school in DC, which also is attended by Sasha and Malia Obama, the children of the pro-public-schools president of the United States.


The Parker children get $7,500 in scholarship money from the federal DC Opportunity Scholarship program to attend Sidwell, whose tuition is $28,000 per year. Without the Opportunity money attached to other funding, they could not afford to go to Sidwell to escape the horrible DC public schools.



Now a provision in the recent Senate omnibus spending kills the scholarship program, and the Democrats are doing everything in their power prevent this provision from being stripped out of the bill. The legislation to end the federal scholarship program was authorized by ultra-liberal Democrat US senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. And it allows the program to die by simply doing nothing. So in other words, nobody, including inner city parents, will see the Democrats cutting the program; it just will happen passively when the bill is passed and when Obama signs it.


1,700 DC students get scholarships to attend private and religious schools, or about 3% of the district’s school population of 50,000. Republicans originally established the scholarship program in 2003 and have fought to have the “poison pill’ killing the scholarships removed from the Senate bill.


And killing this program is yet another double standard among the Democrat elite like Bill Clinton, the Kennedys, and all the billionaire liberals in San Francisco, New York and Hollywood who send their children to expensive private schools. But they do not want their constituents to have the same privilege, even if it means dooming them to failure.


Meanwhile the teacher unions and media conveniently look the other way as Democrat seek to kill any public school alternatives. So after decades of nagging us all about white segregationists standing in the schoolhouse door preventing black children from getting a good education in the South in the 1950s, we now have Northern Democrat segregationists like Durbin, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Charles Schumer and… Barack Obama… standing in the way of educational excellence for minorities in the worst inner-city districts.


Why are they doing this?


Because typically the parents who apply for such programs are more “conservative” and are willing to go out of their way to challenges the public system and to find alternatives. Those parents must be punished by the leftist elite before their message gets out. That is why many poor blacks do not get involved in these programs; because they are afraid of retribution.


Another student who will be sent back to the DC public schools is 12-year old Fransoir William. The public school he left behind was crumbling, overcrowded and dangerous, this despite the fact that the DC schools spend more than $13,000 per student. His mother applied for a federal government voucher and her son was accepted in the Sacred Heart School, a Catholic DC institution. Fransoir now is in danger of losing the $4,700 that funds his tuition at Sacred Heart.


In a statement accompanying the Senate bill with the provision killing the scholarships, Democrats said that no new children should be enrolled and that D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee should seek to ease transition of affected students back into public schools.


What is worth noting here is that these are not even traditional voucher programs where the student leaves a public school and takes thousands of dollars of the public school budget to attend private or religious school with a voucher. The public schools are not losing one single dime under the federal program, which is the usual basis on which the teacher unions attack voucher programs – that they are draining money away from public schools. Never mind that even under such vouchers that the public schools have one less student on their rolls but never give even 50% of the per-student budget amount in a voucher.


Yet the teacher unions are fighting these federal scholarships for one reason only: Because they give poor black students in dysfunctional school systems an opportunity to opt out. This is a threat to the public education bureaucracy’s house of educational cards that will topple in a breeze.


Education secretary Arne Duncan, who opposes school vouchers, stood up for the federal program saying that it does not make sense “to take kids out of a school where they’re happy and safe and satisfied and learning. I think those kids need to stay in their school.” But public support for scholarships and charter schools are ‘safe’ positions for him and for Obama – to say whatever they please for public consumption. Because then the legislation is made in the House and Senate and alternatives are quietly killed by other Democrats.


Of course Obama sent opposing messages on education during his 2008 campaign. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was open to vouchers, but his campaign then issued a statement saying Obama had always been a critic of vouchers. This is the way Democrats operate; say anything in public and push their real agenda in private.


Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.