Arne Duncan's Remarks Stir the Pot on Proposal to Roll Back D.C. School Choice

The political saga of undoing educational choice and opportunity in Washington D.C. continues. It got more interesting yesterday when the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a reporter that he was taking a different position on the voucher program in the nation’s capital than Congressional Democrats who are currently threatening to pull the plug on it:

Duncan opposes vouchers, he said in an interview with The Associated Press. But he said Washington is a special case, and kids already in private schools on the public dime should be allowed to continue.

“I don’t think it makes sense to take kids out of a school where they’re happy and safe and satisfied and learning,” Duncan told said. “I think those kids need to stay in their school.”

Initial reactions have run the gamut. Flypaper’s Amy Fagan thinks a battle could be brewing between the Department and members of Congress.

As many have pointed out, Duncan essentially was saying he supports leaving the current scholarship kids in place but allow no new scholarships, which on its face would essentially let the program die a slower death. Andy Rotherham says the debate could shift, raising some difficult questions for those trying to thread the needle with this apparent “compromise”:

For instance, if it’s OK to keep kids in these schools then why not send others as well?

Exactly the point. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Matt Ladner looks at the bright side and observes:

Duncan’s position will however be less disruptive to the lives of students, and will allow the evaluation of the program to continue.

However, Edspresso takes a less cheerful view, saying “there is no silver lining” in Secretary Duncan’s pronouncement.

I’m not sure whose assessment will end up being correct. It kind of depends on your point of view. But I think for the moment we should continue to urge Obama and Duncan not to let Congress drive the agenda in this conversation, hope that Duncan’s remark moves school choice a little bit farther down the field as an issue garnering bipartisan support, and keep fighting for new opportunity for kids in Washington D.C. and across the nation.