The pitiful state of American politics

Jeanne Allen Senior Fellow, Center for Education Reform
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How pitiful our political system has become—how completely it has veered from the intentions of our Founders—when the leadership of Congress can ignore the votes of members in order to pass a bill widely rejected by the American public while at the same time, a U.S. Senator’s attempts to reauthorize a successful, popular education program are reduced to amending an aviation bill.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has been trying since last fall—as head of the committee that oversees Washington, D.C., programs—to get a fair hearing and a vote from the leadership of the Senate to renew the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives vouchers to nearly 2,000 of the city’s poorest kids to attend private schools that by all measure are helping these kids succeed where they would have clearly failed without the option.

Such a program was piloted but most reasonable people expected that the successful reading scores, parental satisfaction and school district appreciation for the impact of the program would give Congress cause to renew it.

Not so much. Turns out that union politics are stronger than children’s educational outcomes for this crop of our leaders. No wonder why people are protesting in the streets. A right-wing conspiracy against Reid and Pelosi? I don’t think so. The plight of the D.C. scholarship program is yet just one more indication of how far removed Congress is today from the people. Poor, minority supporters of good education aren’t members of the Tea Party. They—like all of us—want what’s best for their kids. There are a few in Congress—Sens. Lieberman, Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), others—who appreciate that. Let’s hope they—and the cause of education civil rights for kids—prevail this week.

PS: Tonight the Senate proved that sometimes, politics is, indeed, pitiful. Rejecting Sen. Lieberman’s amendment by a vote of 42-55, the U.S. Senate dodged the hopes of low-income D.C. children. Most opposing senators didn’t even bother to speak up about the program (despite impassioned, truly excellent speeches in favor of the program by Sens. Feinstein, Lieberman, Collins, Voinovich, and Ensign). One notable exception was Sen. Byron “Lost in Space” Dorgan (which is our new name for the gentleman from North Dakota, after he announced on the senate floor that because America has produced accomplished astronauts, D.C. schoolchildren do not deserve vouchers.) This would be the theatre of the absurd if it weren’t so sad.

Jeanne Allen is the President of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based organization driving the creation of better educational opportunities for all children by leading parents, policymakers and the media in boldly advocating for school choice, advancing the charter school movement, and challenging the education establishment.