Johnson, Committee Hear Local Support for School Choice Program

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard testimony Wednesday on the school choice program that helps low-income families in Washington, D.C. “Having parental choice in education is what will give my children their best chance,” said Gary Jones, a Washington father.

Johnson noted how his experience running a Wisconsin manufacturing company for 31 years taught him that competition guarantees customers the best quality and service at the best price. “Wouldn’t that be great to have that kind of discipline in our school system, for our children, for their opportunities?” he said. “This is all about providing our children with the tools they need to become productive citizens. It’s about opportunity. It’s about giving people a choice. It’s about giving people a chance.”

Jones, the father of five, testified as the hearing room’s seats were filled with about 100 children whose educations depend on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  He said he was stunned at opposition to the program, such as from the Obama administration, which wants to close the program to new students, like his youngest daughter. “What makes the children in the program now more deserving than the children who desperately want the same opportunity? Parents in parts of D.C. need good choices now and we can’t wait for schools to improve.”

Also testifying were former D.C. Councilman Kevin Chavous, Mary Elizabeth Blaufuss, the president of a Washington high school that participates in the program, program participant-student Linda Cruz Catalan, University of Illinois Professor Christopher Lubienski, and, in an earlier panel, congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

Both Feinstein and Scott spoke in support of the program, with Scott noting how a good education turned around his own life. He went on to laud Chairman Johnson’s involvement in education. “Your commitment to this issue started before you were a United States senator,” he said, alluding to Johnson’s work on behalf of both public and parochial schools in northeastern Wisconsin.

The hearing continues a series that included a field hearing in Milwaukee in July, at which the committee took testimony on Milwaukee’s pioneering school choice program. “To date, more than 290,000 students in Wisconsin have been able to participate in that type of opportunity,” said Johnson. “I’m puzzled,” he later said, “why anyone would oppose offering such an option to families.” He pressed Chavous, who was instrumental in the founding of Washington’s program, for his assessment.

“The reality is the only people who are really against school choice are the ones who have it,” Chavous said, adding that he also thinks politics and “the fight” over education also play a role. “If we are really looking at what’s best for the kids then there’s no way to be against this program.”

Johnson’s committee has oversight over the federal capital city, including the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The full committee hearing can be found here.