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Politicians Kill DC Voucher Program, Dash Students' Hopes

By Patrick DorinsonPolitical Commentator

Most of the criticism leveled at the recent Omnibus Spending Bill was about the 8,000 pork barrel projects it contained. Oddly enough, some of the folks complaining the loudest had their snouts deepest in the trough. What was mostly lost in all the "your projects pork but mine is necessary to the survival of the nation" between Republicans and Democrats was the death warrant issued for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program inserted by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill).

This program has been a lifeline to a better life for those kids who were lucky enough to participate. It gave school vouchers of $7500 to 1,700 kids so that they could attend schools of their choice. Every year since it was established in 2004, there have been four times as many kids applying as there were spaces. Many have attended Catholic schools and although the tuition and associated fees of these schools were higher than the voucher, the Archdiocese of Washington ate the difference.

Forgetting the disingenuous language about helping kids "but this isn't the way" you constantly hear from Democrats and school choice opponents, Durbin's sole purpose was to eliminate the successful school voucher program at the behest of his patrons in the teachers unions. After all campaign contributions and foot soldiers are more important than 1,700 kids.

I am not going to try to argue the pros or cons of school choice. I am no expert on education, as I am sure many of the folks who comment on this article will point out to me. Others might say that the program and others like it have not been proven and that it needs more study. And those who support the unions will no doubt say that this will cripple the public schools in America. From the educational products I have seen being produced by the public schools here in California, they are already crippled.

I do want to relate to you an experience I had last year with some students from a charter school in Sacramento. I think it illustrates what is possible.

In 1989, almost 20 years before he ran for mayor of Sacramento, former NBA star Kevin Johnson founded St. Hope Academy. According to its Web site, "St. HOPE is a nonprofit community development corporation whose mission is to revitalize inner-city communities through public education, civic leadership, economic development and the arts. "

Kevin had grown up in Oak Park, one of the toughest neighborhoods in Sacramento. And unlike other sports stars who pay lip service to helping the community, Kevin put not only his money but his heart into the mission of changing the circumstances of his old neighborhood that so many inner city kids must deal with every day.

In 2003, St. HOPE established an independent network of charter schools. Its mission statement is clear and direct, just like Kevin.

Mission: To graduate self-motivated, industrious, and critically thinking leaders who are passionate about life-long learning and committed to serving others.

In 2003, St. HOPE took up one of its biggest challenges.

Sacramento High was in deep trouble and it was in danger of being closed with the students shuffled off to other schools in the District. Kevin fought with all his might to have St. HOPE take over the school and run it as a charter school. You could have heard the hollerin' from the teachers unions and their allies about this move from San Francisco to the Sierras.

Despite all their opposition Kevin and the parents who supported him triumphed. Ever since the defenders of the horrible status quo have tried to do everything they could to derail this effort. Funny, you would think they would be more concerned about the welfare and education of the kids rather than their narrow political agenda? Don't bet on it. To them the kids are just pawns in the bigger game of politics.

Is the program at Sac High working? I think so. I had lunch with three soon-to-be graduates last fall. It was at a campaign event for Mayor Johnson, I was seated at a table with three Sac High seniors. They sat straight up in their chairs and their manners were impeccable. A lot of spoiled suburban kids could learn much from these three. After I sat down they each introduced themselves to me. There was some small talk and I then inquired about what year in school they were. They all replied they were seniors.

When I asked about their plans for next year they all had short answers. "I am going to UC Davis", said the first, "Cal Poly", said the second and the third said "I will be attending Howard University in Washington D.C.". I was pleasantly stunned.

As I walked back to my office, I thought, all things are possible if we put our minds to it. All these kids needed was a chance and someone to believe in them. And I believe that those three students will have a "multiplier effect" that can help change a generation.

We cannot continue to condemn America's children to dead-end schools that produce kids who will have dead-end jobs, if any jobs at all, or worse, they just end up dead on the streets.

Every member of Congress regardless of party who voted for the Omnibus Bill should be forced to go to a public meeting and explain to the the D.C. Scholarship students and their parents why they voted to kill their hopes and dreams. I doubt any of them have the guts to do so.

And President Obama, you most of all have a lot of explaining to do because you signed the order of execution.

This videosays it all.

Patrick Dorinson is a radio talk show host and commentator who goes by the name"The Cowboy Libertarian." He can be heard on a radio program with the same name Saturdays, from 5-6 p.m. PT on Clear Channel's KFBK radio in Sacramento, California.