January 25, 2011. The first State of the Union of John Boehner’s speakership. All this talk, all these machinations, about the Boehner-Obama confrontations ahead. And what was Boehner doing minutes before the president arrived? Just hanging out with kids from local inner-city Catholic schools, his guests of honor for the evening.
Why them? Why then? Well, there are many causes associated with Speaker Boehner – he ended earmarks, among other things – but the one that may well be nearest and dearest to his heart is school choice. “Finding a way to empower parents and their children to have a better shot at an education, I believe from the core of who I am,” he told us earlier this year.
Boehner was the author of the first school choice language to ever pass the House, in 1994. As chairman of the Education the Workforce Committee, he helped create the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the first and only initiative in America where the federal government allows low-income families to pick the schools that are best for their children. And it has been a great success, achieving the kind of results parents dream of for their kids.
Now, there’s a reason this is still the only program of its kind. The education establishment continues to see school choice as a threat, and the Obama administration has repeatedly tried to end the program altogether. So, the day after that State of the Union in 2011, Boehner stood with Sen. Joe Lieberman to push for legislation that would save the program. Ultimately – thanks in part to an outcry from DC parents and teachers – they succeeded.
This week, Boehner is at it one more time, with the House scheduled to take up H.R. 10, his plan to improve and renew this groundbreaking initiative:
“Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio … will not be leaving office without one final push for parental choice in education. … Appropriately, as one of the leading champions for school choice in the nation’s capital, he is leaving his position with reauthorization of the Opportunity Scholarship Program a top priority. ….
“Indeed, the notion that a child’s future need not be linked to the fate of his ZIP code is truly life-changing for D.C. residents. Washington, D.C.’s public school system consistently underperforms, with an overall graduation rate of only 64 percent in 2015, well below the national average of 81 percent. However, students who enrolled in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program reached a remarkable graduation rate of 91 percent according to a U.S. Department of Education Study. In addition to significant improvements in academic attainment rates, families have been empowered to choose safe schools that fit their children’s individual learning needs.” (The Daily Signal)
“I’m proud to say I’ve supported the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the get-go,” Boehner said in 2011, “but I’m even more proud of the fact I had nothing to do with its success.” Indeed, we owe so much to the teachers, parents, and students who have served as the program’s best ambassadors. In 2011, we shared the story of Lesly Alvarez, an eighth-grader who said this before a congressional committee:
“The Opportunity Scholarship Program has been a miracle for me and hundreds of other students just like me. … I know I cannot change the minds of the adults who doubt the value of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. I know that I need to work hard every day to overcome my obstacles and demonstrate the value of my scholarship so that more kids like me can receive it too.”