Sign of Hopeful Political Shift as Families Rally for D.C. School Choice

Some day I might grow up to be cynical about education politics, but for now I see a big glimmer of hope. What do I mean? Look at yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

Low-income families in the District of Columbia got some encouraging words yesterday from an unlikely source. Illinois Senator Richard Durbin signaled that he may be open to reauthorizing the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program that allows 1,700 disadvantaged kids to opt out of lousy D.C. public schools and attend a private school.

“I have to work with my colleagues if this is going to be reauthorized, which it might be,” said Mr. Durbin at an appropriations hearing Tuesday morning. He also said that he had visited one of the participating private schools and understood that “many students are getting a good education from the program.”

This could be the sign of a big turnaround for the influential Democratic senator, whom I have rightly critiqued in the past. At the Flypaper blog, Andy Smarick says Durbin’s statement “was a major step in the right direction”, and wonders if the D.C. 6’s dramatic sit-in a few weeks ago had an impact.

That’s hard to say, but the timing of the statement interestingly coincided with yesterday’s well-attended school choice rally just across from the U.S. Capitol. Kudos to D.C.’s Black Alliance for Educational Options for bringing together 2,000 families to speak with one loud voice.

Or to express their concerns individually:

Many of the adults who attended were parents who had taken a day off work, such as Anthony Moten, a parent of a 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy in the D.C. public school system.

“I don’t know that school choice is going to make a difference, but I do know it could make a difference,” he said, adding, “It’s good experience to make a decision. You have the government say ‘do this, do that, do this, do that,’ and you feel like a puppet.”

James Tolbert, with a daughter in Moten Elementary school in Southeast D.C., felt similarly.

“I want my child to be better than I am,” he said. “God gave you free will. We have to make decisions.”

Maybe, just maybe, Congress is finally listening.