Biddle sends mixed message on vouchers
In his letter to Reid, Biddle supports the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), but expresses “some serious concerns about H.R. 471, which I believe compromise educational benefits of the program.”
He goes on to write: “In regard to human rights, the bill touches on two issues: 1) The right to a quality public education; and, 2) the right to protections afforded under the District’s Human Rights Act. The bill also raises two critical civil rights issues: 1) the right of self-determination for the District of Columbia; and, 2) the separation of church and state.”
Okay. But Biddle continues [emphasis as in original]:
“I do support the $60 million in additional Federal funds to sustain education reform initiatives of DCPS, DCPCS and OSP. Despite my support for additional Federal funds included in this legislation, I believe that the OSP should not fund any organizations that fail to adhere to the same accountability standards as public and public charter schools. For example, some private schools operate outside the ant-discrimination provisions of the District’s Human Rights Act.
“To protect against discrimination, I will introduce legislation that prevents the use of local District funds in the administration of scholarships to organizations that do not fully comply with the District’s Human Rights Act. I strongly urge the Senate to require all organizations, including those that are exempt, to adhere to the District’s Human Rights Act.”
This is both unsatisfying and incoherent. It is unsatisfying because denying local administrative funds pales beside the substantial federal funds being lavished on school vouchers in the District despite vouchers having been shown to be a failure, as in the case of Milwaukee. I hasten to remind everyone that D.C. residents pay federal taxes just like residents of the 50 states, yet the OSP if passed will cause our federal tax dollars to be showered upon a failed program without our being properly represented in Congress and against the express wishes of the people of the District.
Biddle is trying to have it both ways on vouchers, and his proposal is unworkable. The result is that he supports federal funding for vouchers. This goes against GLAA's longstanding opposition to publicly funded vouchers for private schools, which we spelled out in our policy brief, “Agenda: 2010” (which we distributed to all D.C. Council candidates in the April 26 special election).
Here is GLAA's question on vouchers and Sekou Biddle’s response:
10. Will you oppose both federal and local voucher programs that fund students in religious schools that are beyond the protections of the D.C. Human Rights Act?
“Yes, However, I believe that the voucher program can be an effective tool for giving low-income students educational opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had. Unlike Speak John Boehner, I don’t believe that vouchers should be used as a subsidy for religious institutions.”
This muddled answer essentially takes both sides of the issue. Longtime GLAA member Craig Howell reported the following from the March 29 At-Large candidate forum:
“The most important answer for our immediate purposes was from Biddle, who went all Kwame Brown on us and endorsed vouchers (after originally telling us otherwise). He made a few rhetorical nods about not funding discrimination and respecting the DC Human Rights Act, but obviously that angle was not serious enough for him to challenge the Congressional plan. He said DC public schools have failed our residents and our students too long. He cited the potential loss of millions of federal dollars for DCPS and vouchers if we didn't get vouchers as well.”
The “rhetorical nods about not funding discrimination and respecting the DC Human Rights Act” that Craig describes are consistent with Biddle’s answer to GLAA's questionnaire and his letter to Senator Reid. Biddle answers in the classic Clintonian style, where everyone can see their own view reflected. We cannot accept this have-it-both-ways approach. We are disappointed in Biddle and other of his colleagues who declined to sign a letter to Congress requested by GLAA and others opposing the imposition of vouchers. Too many D.C. officials have flip-flopped on this issue; Biddle's position is not a flip-flop, it is just a muddled mess.