Barrett: If Washington can do vouchers right, Nashville can, too

Barrett: If Washington can do vouchers right, Nashville can, too

March 4th, 2012 by Steve Barrett in Opinion Columns

Rule No. 1: No matter how academically effective, anything viewed as a threat to the usual way of doing things in public schools is subject to slander, obstruction, de-funding or summary decapitation.

Rule No. 2: To understand some of the causes of low achievement in schools, see Rule No. 1.

It was not the "failure" but the success of Washington, D.C.'s, educational voucher program that made it a target of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress.

Established in 2004, the government-funded program allowed low-income students from the district's failing public schools to attend private schools with vouchers - for far less than the district spends per student in its public schools.

It worked, swimmingly.

Parents were more satisfied with the education their children were getting and found the schools safer. Graduation rates were higher for voucher students than for their counterparts in traditional D.C. public schools, too.

More than two-thirds of the residents of Washington supported the vouchers, and the program was even more popular among black parents, whose children often were otherwise consigned to some of the worst schools in America.

So naturally, after Democrats regained control of Congress and the White House, they set about dismantling the program. With the president's blessing, they forbade any new students in D.C. to receive vouchers. Hundreds more who had been promised vouchers for 2009 saw their offers rescinded, The Washington Post noted.

It literally took last year's threat of a federal government shutdown before Democrats and the president - who would not let his daughters be caught dead in D.C. public schools - went along with Republican efforts to revive the successful program.

Not surprisingly, parents flooded an informational event last summer to find out how to sign up their children, though there were far more applicants than spaces that could be provided, based on the limited funding.

That meant parents and students faced the humiliation and nerve-frying uncertainty of submitting to a lottery to determine which students would get to attend better schools and which ones would be put on a likely path to non-achievement and poverty. Still, some chance was better than no chance.

Which brings us to Tennessee.

I have no illusions that putting together a good voucher program is a cakewalk. But if you can squeeze a workable system out of the combined, legendary incompetence of Congress and the public schools in Washington, D.C., don't tell me Nashville can't come up with one.

The Tennessee Senate overwhelmingly passed a voucher bill in 2011 that would have helped low-income students in Hamilton, Davidson, Knox and Shelby counties. It's time for the House and the governor to get on board.

Obama's religion

Bill Maher, whom the left considers a comedian, has pledged $1 million to a political action committee that supports Barack Obama.

Maher has also said he thinks Obama is not a Christian.

Anybody wanna lay odds on whether the PAC will reject Maher's dough, or on when the mainstream media will go all thermonuclear on him for questioning the president's beliefs?

You don't say

From The New York Times, the brain trust that brought you such missing-the-point headlines as "Crime Keeps on Falling, but Prisons Keep on Filling," comes this latest gem: "Beheadings Raise Doubts That Taliban Have Changed."

Maybe just a few.

Take your pick

The headline read, "Protect your family from colorless, odorless radon gas."


Insist on multihued, stinky radon gas instead.

Camp misery

The headline noted, "UGA launches drama camp [for high schoolers]."

Which prompted the thought, when was inadequate drama a problem in high school?

Reach Steve Barrett at 423-757-6329 or