The Wall Street Journal speculates that when the U.S. Senate approved a bill that kills the D.C. voucher program it was following orders from the National Education Association.
“Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA,” declared the union in a letter sent to every Democrat in the House and Senate in March. “We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.”
The Journal nails Senator Dick Durbin as the villain in this political parable. The other players, supposedly, are the 1,700 kids in the programs, plus their parents, who hoped to find a way out of the perils of the D.C. public schools. Then there’s the NEA that was simply doing its job by protecting its members from any reduction, no matter how small (vouchers were worth $7,500 per kids), to public school revenue streams. Blend in the other wimpy Democrats who voted to kill the program, clinging to their seats during hard times and loathe to antagonize a muscle-bound union that boasts, “better than three of every four candidates recommended by NEA have been elected to Congress and to state legislatures.”
Of course it’s not that reductive. The dynamics between the power of a lobbying organization with millions in political contributions to burn and the politicians in its sway can provoke bizarre results. Happens all the time, right? But it brings out the righteous indignation in us when the victims are poor kids trying to get escape a failing school system, whether or not one regards vouchers as a cure for our educational woes. (Even the Superintendent of D.C.’s schools, Michelle Rhee, supports the voucher program.) The kids had a chance and it was swiped by some arcane alchemy of power, need, and posturing.