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[Susan notes: The author weighs in on vouchers in Washington D. C.]

Published in Washington Post

To the editor

What does it say about the leadership of a city when three key city officials are willing to take new federal money to support a school voucher "experiment"?

What are D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous (D-Ward 7) planning to do about their responsibility to "leave no child behind"?

Apparently, these city officials have given up on bringing significant and comprehensive change to the D.C. public schools and are settling instead for an unproven program. Only a handful of useful studies have been done on the effectiveness of school vouchers, and their findings have been more scattered than conclusive.

That D.C. public schools rank at the bottom among the school districts in the region is no surprise. Low test scores parallel high rates of poverty. And make no mistake, most children in the District live in or on the edge of poverty.

Poverty, though, cannot be an excuse for giving up on educating these children. Rather it should be a starting point for thinking creatively. Why opt for vouchers that might help some students over comprehensive school reform that could help all students?

Perhaps D.C. leaders think they don't have the money to bring real experimentation into all the city schools that need it. Maybe that is why they have opted to enter into a deal with key congressional leaders to exact new federal money for a relative handful of students rather than spend their political capital on trying to fix the schools they oversee. Taking federal money for vouchers seems to be a tacit admission that they cannot win the politics of local school reform.

Yes, school reform is difficult and frustrating. But during my 30 years in the field of education, this is the first time that I have seen local leaders throw in the towel on public education in quite this way.

What will happen to all the students who don't get vouchers? Are they to be relegated to public schools that will offer them scant hope of finding an equal opportunity to excel?

As willing participants in this decision on vouchers, the mayor, the school board president and the Ward 7 council member have fallen short of their public responsibility. They also are perpetuating a long history of the District being the poor relative in the federal family that takes whatever handouts it can get.

Accepting this particular bit of federal largess, however, speaks volumes about what these city officials think home rule means and whether the children were ever part of their definition.

Gary R. Galluzzo, Professor, George Mason Univ.

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