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Teacher union opposition to D.C. vouchers unfair to the facts

American Federation of Teachers logo. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is up for re-authorization in Congress. The voucher program has been shown to help disadvantaged students. But that hasn’t stopped the usual suspects from trotting out their usual talking points.

The night before the House voted 240-191 to reauthorize the program, Washington  Teachers Union President Emily Davis, blasted out an email to American Federation of Teachers supporters with the standard anti-voucher talking points.

In this alternate universe, vouchers don’t lift student achievement (the evidence says they often do, albeit modestly for low-income students), public schools serve all students (not always), private school choice wastes money (scholarships worth up to $12,572, significantly less than what D.C. public schools receive), and the program has been “proven to be ineffective” (research has found it improves high school graduation rates).

While the research on D.C. vouchers is frequently misunderstood and misquoted, the U.S. Department of Education’s lead researcher on the program, Patrick Wolf, has even repeatedly testified in favor of reauthorizing it.

The AFT somehow interprets all this to mean “the program is a failure.”

The union has now crafted a new argument about local control, writing “the people we elect here in D.C. to govern our local issues have asked Congress to return this issue to local jurisdiction.”

Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) might have something to say about AFT’s support of local control. Source: Wikimedia Commons

But let’s not forget, while the city’s elected leadership no longer supports the program, the AFT urged congressional Democrats to kill the D.C. Opportunity program even when it had Mayoral and City Council support.

The Federally funded program even holds public schools financially harmless when students use vouchers, while student achievement in the District’s public schools has seen the strongest growth in the nation over the last decade.

This is what’s frustrating about anti-voucher humdrum. Its purveyors seem to have little interest in whether the program actually works, or whether local elected officials support it, or that the vast majority of parents who participate in the program say they’re satisfied. The AFT’s real interest might just be its own.

This post was updated to reflect the fact that the bill passed the House with the support of two Democrats.

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BY Patrick R. Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons is public affairs manager at Step Up for Students and a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. A former teacher, he lived in Las Vegas, Nev., for five years, where he worked as an education writer and researcher. He can be reached at (813) 498.1991 or emailed at Follow Patrick on Twitter: at @PatrickRGibbons and @redefinEDonline.