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Where was Obama when D.C.'s students needed him?

President Obama acknowledged to Matt Lauer Monday that he sent his two daughters to the elite Sidwell Friends School because he knew they would get a far better education there than in the struggling D.C. public schools. Hearing those words, I couldn't help but think of the 216 parents in D.C. who know that bitter truth better than the president. They are the low-income parents whose children would have gone to private schools had the Obama administration not cut the legs out from under the city's federally-funded school voucher program.

Started in 2004, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship provided vouchers of up to $7,500 to low-income, mostly minority children for private-school tuition. Democrats never liked the program and -- egged on by the teachers unions -- made the program's demise a top priority. Congress moved to cut off funding, and the Obama administration went right along, deciding in the spring of 2009 to rescind scholarships that had been promised to 216 families. The president subsequently agreed to let students already enrolled in private schools under the voucher program to continue their educations until high school graduation, but the 216 were shut out, and the program was closed to new students.

The president gets a lot of credit for focusing important attention on education and for empowering Education Secretary Arne Duncan to pursue aggressive school reform. But his disappointing decision on vouchers runs counter to his promise to do only what makes sense for children.

At another point in the interview, Obama was asked about the parents featured in the new documentary, "Waiting for Superman," who lose in lotteries for coveted spots in charter schools. "Oh, it's heartbreaking. And when you see these parents in the film, you are reminded that, I don't care what people's income levels are, you know, their stake in their kids, their wanting desperately to make sure their kids are able to succeed is so powerful -- and it's obviously difficult to watch to see these kids who know that this school's going to give them a better chance -- and that should depend on the bounce of a ball," he said.

Lucky for Obama that director Davis Guggenheim wasn't around to film the 216 parents when their hopes were snatched away.

By Jo-Ann Armao  | September 27, 2010; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Armao  | Tags:  Jo-Ann Armao  
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Sometimes the hypocrisy of the people we put in power of the government is breathtaking. To satisfy one of his union constituencies, Obama terminated the voucher program. He should apologize to all of the parents affected by his hypocrisy. Indeed.

Posted by: stvcar | September 27, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

This proves that Obama is not interested in improving education but he IS interested in kowtowing to the Teachers Unions-- exactly the problem with public education. If this clown gets re-elected in 2012, we need a collective national head examination.

Posted by: hz9604 | September 27, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Hypocrisy? Explain to me why every tax payer in the country should have to pay for 216 students in the District attend private school. When you are finished with that explain the fairness to the other 50 thousand children the District that did not receive the same priviledge?

The Obama's pay after tax dollars for the children's schooling and so do other parents. I am not against a better school or a better opportunity for kids. On the contary I am against tokenism. If you want to provide a better eductaion for DC kids then do it for all of them.

Posted by: justonevoice | September 27, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Here's a link to a comparison of public and private schools, showing how true Obama's statement is.

How appalling that the man elected to be the savior of the poor and middle class takes a salary paid by those very people and uses it, along with his considerable other wealth, to send his own kids to a school he admits is better than those the people who pay him can possibly afford. This would be reprehensible even if he had not been instrumental in eliminating the DC voucher program that could have helped a few children, a voucher program that had already proven its success. I am angered beyond words that he has done both things; he has used taxpayer money to send his own kids to private schools while simultaneously making it impossible for others to do the same.

Posted by: artemis3 | September 27, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Considering all the death threats this family has received, what do you expect.

Here's a real "cute" little excerpt of Glenn Beck having a little race-baiting fun at an 11-year old child's expense, for instance.

That's all his kids need are a bunch of Tea-Nuts incited by Glenn Beck to go in to a public school and spit on them, which I'm sure they would attempt given half a chance, if not worse acts.

And as far vouchers go, school vouchers were used mainly by segregationists addicted to bigotry.

Posted by: redjanuko | September 27, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes the hypocrisy of the people we put in power of the government is breathtaking. To satisfy one of his union constituencies, Obama terminated the voucher program. He should apologize to all of the parents affected by his hypocrisy. Indeed.

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of President Obama.

That said the 'Voucher Program' was nothing more than a Republican scam that to give rich and greedy folks a break of their kid’s education cost, on the other hand, unscrupulous inner-city folks set-up faux schools to bilk their own community out of their vouchers – while depriving their children of a decent education. These moronic parents think just because their kids bring home an ‘A’ that they are actually learning.

PEOPLE – the ‘Voucher’ program doesn’t provide enough money for a decent education – it was designed to only supplement the cost of a decent education. Anybody who tells you differently is lying to you.
However I have an novel idea – lets actually stop trying to lock up our kids and try teaching them in ‘Public Schools’. You know – like we use to do when we were a great nation. Long before George W. Bush, the Republicans and their BS contracts and greed knocked us down to where we are now. Today our prisons are full of once promising kids and we have a cop on every corner – it’s no way to live

Posted by: question-guy | September 27, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Hon. Scott D. Shellenberger
State's Attorney
Baltimore County, Maryland

Dear Scott D. Shellenberger:

The statute of limitations may well have expired in this matter but I feel it is a matter of conscience that this be reported to your office even now.

Sometime between the years 1992 and 1995, a teacher at Baltimore's Harlem Park Elementary named Michelle A. Rhee, placed masking tape over the mouths of 8-year-old students in her charge in order to quiet them. She herself reported that several of the children cried and were bloodied when the tape was removed.

Recently Ms. Rhee, who now serves as the Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools, made a stunning public confession of her abuse of the children, albeit nearly two decades after the fact. This is conjecture on my part but possibly Ms. Rhee is aware of the statute of limitations in a crime of this nature. Or that because these were Black children living in poverty, Ms. Rhee feels they could be abused with impunity and the whole thing could be made into the opening joke of a speech.

Ms. Rhee testified to this before an audience of hundreds of people who will serve as teachers in the District's public schools. Just as a matter of curiosity have you been contacted by any of them? Unlikely it would seem, many of the new teachers inexplicably laughed at Ms. Rhee's cruelty. Maybe just eager to please the boss, you think?

The following link to a Washington Post audio recording of Ms. Rhee's full confession is offered as potential evidence if you should seek an indictment.

Yours truly,

Oh, and 216 of Washington D.C.'s 45,000 students didn't get into private schools and someone named Jo-Ann Armao, one of Michelle Rhee's most ardent supporters, it ticked off with President Obama about it. You might look into that too.

Posted by: natturner | September 27, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

When a liberal politician talks against vouchers and charters because we need to help all children equally what they really mean is that they refuse to tie funding to the children. Funding belongs not to meeting the needs of the child, but is deserved by the school establishment. They must keep failing public schools open, and keep them full by allowing no alternative to kids and parents wanting out.

Tie the funding to the kid. If and when the kids all go to private schools for better educations, then board up the public schools and convert them to community centers, parks or condos or whatever else gets local politicians some graft and votes. But don't let the kids languish in mediocre schools because of the political compromise between urban Democrats, teachers unions and now the NAACP.

Posted by: cprferry | September 27, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Who are you, Miss Commentator, and what right do you have to shrill out on where our president places his kids? Obama did not cut that federal aid to DC schools. Republicans did. Please don't muddy up the facts. All government is bad, all government spending is bad...the Republican mantra. Don't pretend you've never heard this before. Doesn't matter whether you are conservative or liberal, what you say is nonsense.

Posted by: walden1 | September 27, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Jo-Ann Armao is a paid shill of the privatized education industry. Her employer makes most of its profit from snaring local and federal government education grants to the tune of billions per year. The Post should make clear when its writers have a business interest in the topic at hand.

Posted by: imback | September 27, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Even with the voucher, a family would still be short $22,000 for Sidwell.

Posted by: edlharris | September 27, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

The voucher program is a terrible idea. It's so full of holes it should be retitled, "Swiss Cheese."

If you want government to fix public schools, you have government fix public schools. You don't have government paying for kids to go to private schools. That's just common sense.

Posted by: sonny2 | September 27, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

The 216 parents who were using vouchers for their kids were not sending their children to Sidwell. The president didn't say ALL private schools are better, he said the private school where he sends HIS daughters is better. Let's not turn this into something it truly isn't. Vouchers were not sending kids to the top private schools in the DC area.

Posted by: sqweakie | September 27, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

This morning I saw an article on Texas Tribune about Harmony Public Schools, a group of successful charter schools in Texas. As a nation, we need to increase the number of those high-achieving schools. You can read the full article in the link below:

Posted by: williampack | September 27, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I agree. The plight of 216 kids is a different problem from the plight of the DC system and they both need attention. Obama let these kids down. His own upbringing and the upbringing of his kids are at odds with his ideology. He should have considered the individuals like he was considered in Hawai'i.

Posted by: kevnet | September 27, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

justonevoice said: "I am not against a better school or a better opportunity for kids. On the contrary I am against tokenism. If you want to provide for a better education for DC kids then do it for all of them."

Ah, the genius of this kind of thinking! Even though no plan to achieve this outcome is suggested, and we may have to wait for decades, we are supposed to be patient until some time in the uncertain future when we will achieve this precious goal of perfect equality --- rather than the despised "tokenism." Of course in the interim we will certainly have to write off a few more generations of DC school children.

Thanks for providing a real source of hope and comfort for DC parents with young children.

Posted by: prosecutor1 | September 27, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

We are just fiddling around the margins with charter schools. We need to end the public school monopoly now. Public educations is like Congress, it keeps spending money and doing less with it. Parochial schools operate on 30-50% of the funding that public schools receive and deliver a better product. We need to stop taking tax money from homeowners to support public schools. We should give people a charter and let them chose to send their kids to the best school available. whether it be parochial, public or charter.

Posted by: jkk1943 | September 27, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Armao's passion for misleading the public has no end. The "D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was according to a three year evaluation by the U.S. Department of Education to be failure. Moreover, DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee is an ineffective manager, not a superhero.

Robert Vinson Brannum

Posted by: robert158 | September 28, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse

Maybe Obama has read the extensive research* done on the DC voucher program and saw that it did not enhance kids' education - as measured by the holy grail of standardized test scores.


Oh, parents were "happier" with the schools, but the kids weren't and there is no difference between achievement in public schools and the parochial schools.

The difference is that the government was funding private religious education - something a secular government should not do.

Posted by: efavorite | September 28, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Jo-Ann Armao conveniently overlooks the fact that the vast majority of the DC vouchers were going to faith-based private schools. That means that all taxpayers in the US were being forced under the Bush legislation to contribute involuntarily to the support of religious institutions, in violation of the First Amendment and over 3/4 of the state constitutions. Tens of millions of Americans from coast to coast (including 9/10 of DC voters) have rejected vouchers or their variants in over 25 statewide referenda. In allowing the republican school voucher plan to expire, President Obama and Congress were being faithful to the Constitution and following the clearly expressed views of the majority of American voters. By all means, let's improve District public schools, but let's do so properly, with due attention to the problems that go with poverty and in a less ham-handed way than has been thr case with the arrogant Michelle Rhee. -- Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty,

Posted by: EddDoerr | September 28, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The ultimate effects of a school voucher program are the fragmentation of our school population along religious, social class, ethnic, ideological and other lines; the lowering of the status of the teaching profession; the destruction of teacher unions, the increasing cost and lower quality of education generally, and finally the destruction of democratic public education. Ms Armao should put that in her pipe and smoke it -- Edd Doerr

Posted by: EddDoerr | September 28, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I agree with most of the comments here. The vouchers are no more than an unfair system to help a small number of kids to get into the private school system. The money should be better spent helping all of DCPS students all over the city. Now if for-profit businesses and nonprofits wanted to sponsor vouchers, I think that'll be a great idea. They get to be good corporate citizens while helping the children get a better education. And in some instances, some of these private schools help to fund low income parents.

It just seems unfair that to send my kids to private school, I have to pay the full amount for the past 10 years (with help from the school), while other kids get to live off the tax payers' dime. What's the fairness in that?

Posted by: TheDCWriter | September 28, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Armao,

You have lost all credibility. You have no moral authority anymore, because you fibbed and fibbed and fibbed in order to protect Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 28, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

216!!! 216!!! There are millions of school aged children in the District of Columbia,what gives anyone the right to choose a mere 216 children to attend school with a voucher?? What kind of difference is that supposed to make? When are people going to learn that low income,poor or middleclass, if the parents don't get involved what difference is it going to make with the child's education? We lament "where was Obama"? The man was elected president not crowned king. Where were your government officals? Where were your representatives?? Obama,nor any other president,wave a magic wand and everything becomes law. If parents would stand up for better teachers,better teaching planning,and participate in their children education and not leave it up to only the teachers this argument would hold a LITTLE water. My grandson attends a public school in a very poor area of DC. His parents go to the school for conferences, they make sure he does his homework and study, if there is no homework he stills study,the fathers in that school attend programs,chaperone field trips,the mothers are aware if there school supplies that are needed but not funded and hold fund raisers to supply these things. In short, they CARE about their children and the rise in the GPAs in that school reflects. Stop putting the responsibility on government and accept some responsibility. And NO my son and daughter-in-law aren't even in the middleclass bracket but they juggle work,family time and education pretty well. Stop giving these children EXCUSES. I am willing to wager the parents of the children in these private schools are just as involved as my grandson's parent. Just saying..

Posted by: bdavispcthotmailcom | September 29, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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