Let's be serious about education reform

My view’s always been, education reform starts with giving children in need a way out of our most underachieving public schools. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we abandon those schools. It means we take some of the pressure off of them while they work to turn themselves around. So we came together here about seven years ago and said, let’s try something different. 

Instead of just throwing money at the problem, let’s empower parents from lower-income families to choose the schools that are best for them. We wouldn’t deny any school money that they’d already be receiving – we would just be injecting freedom and competition into a system caught up in the status quo.

And we had a strong bipartisan coalition, including Anthony Williams, who was the mayor here at the time, and Dick Armey, who for years led this fight in the House, paving the way for this program. He and I started working together on school choice in the early 1990s when we served on the Education & Labor Committee. 

We said, let’s give these kids in our capital city a real chance at success and a real shot at the American Dream that they don’t have. What do we have to be afraid of? 

Well, as it turned out, there was nothing to be afraid of. Thousands of families have taken advantage of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. And there’s strong evidence that it’s both effective and cost-effective.

Unfortunately, the education establishment in our country sees this Opportunity Scholarship Program as a threat. In reality, this is an opportunity to raise the bar, because competition makes everybody better.  I think if you look beyond the talking points and focus on the facts, you’ll find that the D.C. program provides a model that can work well in other communities around our nation.

Now, this issue is important to me – but I’ll tell you this: this is not about me. I’m proud to say I’ve supported the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the get-go, but I’m even more proud of the fact I had nothing to do with its success. 

For that, we can thank the students and the parents who have become more than just the program’s beneficiaries – they are its greatest ambassadors. In recent days, I’ve received letters from many of them asking Congress to do the right thing, and I’ll be submitting some of those for the record.

You see, they know what it was like before. They remember living just blocks from these great schools, but feeling miles away from them. All they ask us to do is help ensure others get the same chance they’ve had. That’s no controversial idea – it’s just the American way. 

So if we’re serious about bipartisan education reform, we should start by saving this successful, bipartisan program that has helped so many underprivileged children get a quality education. I urge the House to support and save this important program.