On Wednesday, Senator Lieberman held a committee hearing on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The committee heard first-hand from many individuals: Latasha Bennett, a single mother whose 8-year-old son is in the OSP; two recipients of Opportunity Scholarships who attend(ed) Archbishop Carroll High School (an ACE placement); former DC mayor Anthony Williams; Bruce Stewart, the principal of Sidwell Friends, the school the Obama daughters attend; and Dr. Patrick Wolf, the chief investigator on the recent study that showed the program having a statistically significant impact on student reading level.
For those who know Senator Lieberman as one of the most vocal Senate supporters of the DC OSP, it comes as no surprise that all of these speakers were favorable toward the OSP. What might be a surprise is the fact that Lieberman had invited OSP opponents to testify, but all turned him down, including leaders of teachers unions. (The Washington Post provides more explanation in this article.)
Senator Voinovich, who initiated parental choice in Ohio as governor, provided perhaps the most energizing few minutes of the hearing when he explained his strong disappointment that those who lobbied against the program were not willing to “stand up and be counted” at the hearings:
“The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers do not like this program. And the thing that disturbs me, and children this is a lesson for you and your parents, [is that] they’re not here today. They haven’t got the guts to come here today and look [OSP recipients] Tiffany in the eye and Ronald in the eye and Latasha in the eye and say, ‘You know what? We’re going to cut off your program.’ If this is such a bad thing, where are they?”
But the most touching and important testimony of the day was from the mother and students whose lives have been so improved by the opportunity to select a quality school. Latasha Bennett has seen her son Nico excel at Naylor Road Private School, but her 4-year-old daughter Nia will be denied that chance if the OSP is not reauthorized. Ms. Bennett spoke movingly about the challenge:
I want Nia to have the same opportunity to excel as well as her older brother. Nia is so looking forward to going to Naylor Road with her brother that she continues to ask me, ‘Mom when do I go to school with my brother?’ I used to answer her and tell her, ‘Very soon'; now I don’t know what to tell her. My children really need this program to continue. Without it I truly don’t have a clue as to where I will send them to school. My assigned neighborhood school is not an acceptable place, and options are so limited at this late date.”
Click the video above for coverage of the entire hearing. Senator Lieberman provides an opening statement and a good background on the issue from 18:20 to 32:00. The first three individuals testify beginning at 39:30. Senator Voinovich speaks at about 86:15, when they recommence after the recess. Senator Burris, the only individual who was not supportive of the OSP during the hearing, shares his thoughts at 96:40. The second panel of witnesses (Williams, Stewart, Wolf) begins at about 111:00.
You can also find the video and the witnesses’ written testimony at the committee website. Finally, see the Washington Post’s editorial here.
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