Voucher programs give underprivileged children a chance to attend better schools, and their graduation rate is on the upswing.
But the biggest threat to this continued opportunity is President Barack Obama, says a former Democratic officeholder and one-time supporter of the president.
"We have a 97 percent graduation rate for children in the Opportunity Scholarship Program in the District of Columbia, 92 percent college enrollment, and two valedictorians, and our biggest problem is fighting Obama," said Kevin Chavous, former councilman for the District of Columbia and now general counsel for the pro-voucher American Federation for Children.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Chavous singled out the administration's suit last month to block a similar scholarship program, funded by vouchers, in Louisiana.
The Justice Department asked a Louisiana federal judge to stop the state's new voucher program from expanding in school districts covered by federal desegregation orders.
"Under the lawsuit, the state would be barred from assigning students in those systems to private schools unless a federal judge agreed to it," reported the Times Picayune.
"While the federal petition would let courts approve vouchers in those school systems next year, Brian Blackwell, attorney for the Louisiana Association of Educators, said it would likely take a lot of time, effort, and evidence to persuade the judges."
Chavous said, "In other words, this is another stall-and-delay tactic from the very same union that opposes educational choice. And under this lawsuit, only a federal judge should allow a poor black child to leave the failing school district.
"That's right, it's not up to the parent, but a federal judge," Chavous said.
Chavous, who lost the 1998 Washington, D.C., mayoral primary, was an Obama supporter in 2008 and served on Obama's Education Policy Committee.
The president has been good on charter schools in the District of Columbia, said Chavous, "but when it comes to school vouchers — that is, giving parents a voucher and letting them use it to pay for any school, private or otherwise, for their children — he's out to kill the program."
Funding for the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program is "zeroed out" by Obama, but House Speaker John Boehner always has put it back in, according to Chavous.
"John Boehner is our biggest champion in Congress," Chavous said.
Vouchers began two decades ago with pilot projects in cities such as Jersey City, N.J., and Milwaukee. Now there are more than 39 voucher programs nationwide and, according to the American Federation for Children, all have bipartisan support.
Wisconsin has three statewide programs and North Carolina has eight.
Robert Warren of the University of Minnesota said that students who have taken advantage of Milwaukee's voucher program "have a 12 percent higher graduation rate than before the program existed, and a 12 percent increase in those pursuing higher education."
In the District of Columbia, where the public-school graduation rate is 56 percent, the graduation rate of those enrolled in the Opportunity Scholarship Program is 97 percent, and 91 percent have enrolled in college.
In the Louisiana program now under fire, Chavous noted, "8,000 kids have applied and 5,000 have been seated in one year." Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is "very friendly" to the voucher concept, he added.
"No longer is the debate about whether we need educational choice. Today, the question is about how much choice," says Betsy DeVos, founder and president of the American Federation for Children.
While the cooperation on the issue between DeVos, a Michigan Republican, and Chavous shows how the issue transcends politics, Chavous said the opposition of Obama and several Democratic senators who are sympathetic but oppose vouchers is due to the political clout of the teachers unions.
"They have influence, and that's why the president and a number of Democratic senators who should be with us are against us," he said, singling out Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. "Even in education reform, politics rules at the end of the day."
But, noting that Pryor and Landrieu both face difficult re-election battles next year, Chavous added, "We feel the momentum behind vouchers, and it is growing in a bipartisan way across the country. In opposing it, these people may have awakened a sleeping giant."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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