Addenda to Dante

I am waiting for someone to discover a lost edition of Dante’s Inferno. This version would add another circle to hell, one reserved for politicians and activists who oppose school choice and vouchers for the poor while sending their own children to private schools. These lost souls would be condemned to spend the rest of eternity with a full bladder while trapped in a D.C. public school where the toilets don’t work. That’s exactly the way I feel when I see Congress, for the second time in as many months, having the audacity to pull the plug on a school voucher program for poor students in the District of Columbia. In a breathtaking display of hypocrisy, public officials are denying lower-income students the privileges their own children enjoy. The student voucher proposal arose when Congress appointed a committee to study the D.C. school system. What they found was shocking: schools plagued with a chronic shortage of books, missing teachers, and unusable bathrooms. The District’s SAT scores are 200 points below the national average. 40 percent of its students drop out before graduation. Worst of all, District school superintendent Franklin Smith has admitted he cannot promise that his students "will be safe coming to school and at school." In response the congressional committee proposed a modest voucher and scholarship program. It would provide the parents of 3,000 students?out of an enrollment of 75,000, with $3,000 each to enable them to do what the president, vice president, and members of Congress do: send their children to the private or religious school of their choice. But even this small measure of equity was too much for the National Education Association (NEA) and its supporters. So determined were they to kill the program before it started that they held up federal financial assistance to the District until the proposal was withdrawn. What makes the response of the NEA and its supporters all the more galling is that nationally 40 percent of all urban public school teachers send their own children to private schools. Not a single member of Congress or senior administration official sends his children to D.C. public schools. Yet they steadfastly deny poor families the same opportunities they enjoy. Why are vouchers so important? As John Coons of the University of California at Berkeley Law School says, it’s a matter of simple justice. Cultural elites talk endlessly about the importance of public education while insulating themselves from the consequences of their convictions. Given the failure of the public school system, the D.C. voucher program represents the only chance for many poor students to get a decent education in a safe school. Allowing the cultural elites and the NEA to deny them that chance should outrage any decent person. It is too late this year to save the program, but the issue is far from dead. School voucher programs have been proposed in several states. Find out where your elected representatives stand, and where they send their own kids to school. If he’s a hypocrite, remind him there’s always room for one more in the revised version of Dante’s hell.


Chuck Colson


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