WaPo Paints Obama Plan to Kill D.C. Vouchers as 'Middle Way on a Contentious Issue'

May 7th, 2009 11:41 AM

President Obama is proposing a measure today to slowly kill the D.C. school voucher program by attrition. Because the liberal National Education Association wants Congress to immediately kill the program, the Washington Post's Bill Turque and Shailagh Murray hailed Obama's plan as "an attempt to navigate a middle way on a contentious issue."

President Obama will propose setting aside enough money for all 1,716 students in the District's voucher program to continue receiving grants for private school tuition until they graduate from high school, but he would allow no new students to join the program, administration officials said yesterday.

The proposal, to be released in budget documents today, is an attempt to navigate a middle way on a contentious issue. School choice advocates, including Republicans and many low-income families, say the program gives poor children better access to quality education. Teachers unions and other education groups active in the Democratic Party regard vouchers as a drain on public education that benefits relatively few students, and they say the students don't achieve at appreciably higher levels at their new schools.

Congress voted in March to cut off funding after the 2009-10 academic year unless the entire program is reauthorized by lawmakers, a dim prospect in the Democrat-led body. The White House proposal would revise the law and secure grants for the coming school year, but Obama has to persuade Democratic lawmakers to support a gradual phaseout by continuing to include grant funding in future appropriation bills. 

Of course, the program has only been in existence for five years and as such its long-term benefits are yet to be discerned. Phasing out the program affords no long-term way to assess the benefits of the voucher program, and killing the program by attrition means Obama might dodge criticism from African-American supporters who are pro-voucher. After all, he's moderate on the issue compared to liberals who want to dump the program straight away.

But "navigat[ing] a middle way" seems like Obama PR, not objective reporting. 

What's more, Turque and Murray waited until paragraph 13 of 18 to note the rally held yesterday calling on Congress to save D.C. vouchers:

Several hundred voucher and school choice supporters, including children from private schools attended by scholarship recipients, donned yellow T-shirts and rallied at Freedom Plaza in front of the Wilson Building yesterday. They called on federal lawmakers to fully restore the program.

Some cited a recent survey that found that 38 percent of members of Congress have sent children to private schools. About 20 percent of the lawmakers attended private schools, almost twice the rate of the general public.

"Your tax dollars go to pay the same members of Congress, 40 percent of whom send their kids to private schools," Robert said. "I am 100 percent for public schools . . . but this is about your rights, your civil rights."