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Practicing school choice

Opinion | The Obamas can choose to put their children first and send them to private school, a choice denied to many other Americans

President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, came to town and did what people with young children usually do before moving. They looked at their new house and then Mrs. Obama checked out the school choices for their two young daughters.

The schools Mrs. Obama visited were private, not public. While no decision has yet been made, it seems obvious the girls enjoy their private school in Chicago and have flourished in it. Would the Obamas, in order to pander to the teachers unions, place their daughters in one of Washington, D.C.'s miserable public schools? Let's hope not. That would be a form of intellectual and social child abuse.

Should they choose either Sidwell Friends School (where Chelsea Clinton attended) or Georgetown Day School-Mrs. Obama visited both-or a public school, the Obamas have the ability to make a choice for their children, a choice the president-elect would deny to every other American who cannot afford to pay private school tuition. This is not the vaunted fairness for which Obama campaigned. This is not spreading the educational and intellectual wealth around.

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During the campaign, Obama praised D.C. School Superintendent Michelle Rhee for her commendable attempts to improve the Washington public school system, but the schools still have a long way to go and continue to underperform the rest of the country. Surely the Obamas care more about their daughters than the teachers unions and will place them in private schools.

Parents who put their children first are to be admired and emulated. Politicians who are parents and who have the power to let others make the choices they can make, but refuse to do so, are inconsistent at best and hypocrites at worst.

Throughout the campaign, Obama presented himself as a champion of the poor and middle class. Poor and middle-class parents do not love their children any less than the Obamas love their daughters. They want their kids to have a good education, realizing it is their ticket to a better life. But liberal politicians deny them that right. Is that fair?

This year, 1,900 D.C. schoolchildren were allowed to attend private schools, thanks to congressional vouchers. With Democrats about to be in charge of all three branches of government, will Obama and his fellow Democrats send them back to failed schools? D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has suggested as much. Parents interviewed by Washington TV stations overwhelmingly want their children to remain where they are. Is it not cruel to force them back into a broken system?

Many Members of Congress choose private schools for their children. Sens. Edward Kennedy and Hillary Clinton have been outspoken opponents of school choice yet have sent their children to private schools. According to a 2007 Heritage Foundation survey, "... 37 percent of representatives and 45 percent of senators in the 110th Congress sent their children to private schools-almost four times the rate of the general population." Yet many of them vote against letting the rest of us have the same choice.

In its recently released annual report, the privately underwritten Children's Scholarship Fund outlines the assistance it is offering parents of disadvantaged poor and minority students. It isn't welfare, because parents contribute to the cost of their child's education. As the annual report states, after 10 years "the lives of 96,000 children across the United States have been changed for the better by CSF scholarships worth $315 million."

What do the children think? Fatouma D., a CSF sixth-grader says, "I love my school so much. We have so many programs. The best part is the fun never stops until 6 o'clock." Here's Jonathan C., a second-grader: "When I grow up I want to be a Marine so I can save people trapped in water." And Madysen D., a first-grader, "I can't wait to start working on fractions."

If Obama and his fellow Democrats won't "let our people go," the rest of us have options. We can send our children and grandchildren to private schools-or home school them-and act compassionately toward the less fortunate by contributing to the Children's Scholarship Fund (8 West 38th Street, 9th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018).

This will offer children trapped in bad schools the brighter future they deserve and the country will get the better educated citizenry it desperately needs.
© 2008 Tribune Media Services Inc.

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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