House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.


March 17, 2009

McKeon op-ed in The Hill: Jeopardized D.C. program shows promise of school-choice

The following op-ed by Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) appears in The Hill newspaper as part of a special report on Children’s Initiatives.

All parents want to give their children the best that life has to offer, and they know that a high-quality education is the key that can open many of life’s doors. No one cares more about a child’s education than his or her parents. And that means no one is better equipped than parents to make educational decisions.

Our educational system must put students first and empower parents with more options to make the best choices for their children’s education. All children, no matter what district they live in or how much money their parents make, deserve a quality education. Schools should be held accountable to parents and communities for producing results. And if those results aren’t met, then those parents should have the right to choose another, better-performing school for their child.

For years, Republicans have worked hard to ensure that parents can choose a higher-performing public or private school if their children’s school falls short of providing a quality education. Children should not be trapped in underperforming schools, forced to wait for a good education while the system tries to fix itself.

One such program that allows children to escape chronically underperforming schools is the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Created five years ago, the D.C. OSP is part of an innovative three-sector approach to education reform right here in the nation’s capital. The District receives funding to improve the public school system; funding to expand and enhance the city’s successful charter school movement; and funding to provide scholarships to low-income families who wish to send their children to private schools. The three-sector approach is rooted in the belief that different families will choose different educational paths, but that all children deserve a quality education.

The program has worked wonders when it comes to parental involvement and satisfaction. Parents who never before felt they had a voice in how their children were being educated have been empowered by this program. They see their children blossoming in schools where they are safer, happier and more academically challenged.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with some of the children and parents who have benefited from these scholarships, and their stories are remarkable. These students have transformed from shy children unchallenged in their studies to extroverted scholars looking forward to college and a life of limitless possibility.

The families of scholarship recipients have an average income of less than $23,000 per year, yet they are as engaged and involved as the higher-income families who enroll their children in these same private schools without scholarships. This proves that all parents — if given the opportunity — want to play an active role in their children’s education.

That’s why it comes as such a shock that some in Congress are trying to end the program and take away the opportunities that parents have so eagerly embraced. Opponents of parental choice in education have seen to it that the D.C. OSP will end after the upcoming school year unless Congress and the D.C. Council quickly enact legislation reauthorizing it.

Recently, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and even President Obama, through a spokesman, have stated that children enrolled in this program should not be torn away from the schools they currently attend. This is a glimmer of hope, but much work remains to preserve this program and expand the reach of parental empowerment to other families that have been denied true educational opportunity.

Among all of the promising reform strategies for education, parental choice has proved to be the most successful in boosting parental engagement and empowering the individual. Scholarships to private schools like the D.C. OSP are one such initiative that has worked. So too are strategies that allow parents to choose charter schools, enroll their children in different public schools or secure tutoring and other specialized services. The point is that when parents are given the choice, they will do what is best for their child.

McKeon is the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

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