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Statement by Rep. Dan Burton at
House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform hearing on
“School Choice in the District of Columbia: Opening Doors for Parents and Students,”

June 24, 2003




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Statement of Congressman Dan Burton
Committee on Government Reform Legislative Hearing
"School Choice in the District of Columbia: Opening Doors for Parents and Students"

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Good afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for providing me with the opportunity to speak on this important initiative. Today we are here to discuss school choice in the District of Columbia. This is a very important issue, as it is our duty here as Members of Congress, and at home as parents 'and grandparents, to leave no child behind.

I believe that school choice initiatives can bring the promise of freedom, opportunity, and hope to thousands of children trapped in failing schools across the Nation. The idea of school choice is nothing new. For years, well-off parents have had the choice to send their children to private or parochial schools. At the collegiate level, Pell Grants expanded the concept of school choice to underserved students in 1972.

Eligible military personnel have had the assistance of the Montgomery G.I. Bill that has allowed them to attend the public or private college of their choice.

If it is a good idea to give underprivileged students a choice in higher education, why not help children from low-income families attend the grade school of their choice? I think that it is just as important to help students in the formative years of their education as it is in their later years. We must lay a solid foundation on which these children can build their education.

Academic performance in the District of Columbia has been on the decline for quite some time now, and overall spending for special education has increased dramatically in recent years. In an effort to alleviate this problem, the "D.C. Parental Choice Incentive Act of 2003," has been proposed by our colleague and this Committee's Chairman, the Distinguished Gentleman from Virginia - Tom Davis.

The main objective of the bill is to provide families with options for their children's education. This measure does not require parents to send their children to private schools, but would enable parents of children in under-performing schools within the District of Columbia to have the option to select and move their children to schools with a better record of educational quality. Unfortunately, this legislation, and the efforts to improve the crumbling D.C. school system, has come under fire by some challengers of school choice.

Many of the opponents of school choice measures would have you believe that giving school vouchers to disadvantaged children to attend private institutions would undermine the public school system. But what about undermining a child's education, or hindering their potential to succeed? I believe our top priority should be protecting the best interests of our schoolchildren, not preserving the last vestiges of a failing school system. That should be what we discuss today.

In addition, it has been shown time and time again that many of the opponents of school choice don't send their own children to public schools. In the District of Columbia, only one of the City Council members, Ms. Carol Schwartz, is known to have sent her children to D.C. public schools. What kind of message are the D.C. Council members sending to the parents of children who cannot afford to send their children to private schools? I'll tell you what they're saying to them Mr. Chairman: they do not truly care about the children in our Nation's capitol. What hypocrisy!

Today we will hear testimony from the Honorable Mayor of Washington, D.C., Mr. Anthony Williams. He has been very outspoken and courageous in the fight to give disadvantaged parents the power of choice when it comes to their children's educations. At the last hearing before our Committee on this issue, Mayor Williams stated, " I believe research has confirmed that school vouchers increase parental satisfaction, boost academic achievement of inner city African-American students, and increase the likelihood that students will attend and complete college. No research, to my estimation, has proven that voucher programs are detrimental to the students who participate in them." I would like to thank Mr. Williams for agreeing once again to testify before us today.

In addition to Mayor Williams, I look forward to hearing from the distinguished Secretary of Education, the Honorable Roderick Paige, as well as the Chairman of the House Committee on Education, my good friend and colleague, Congressman John Boehner of Ohio. Thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here with us today to lend your insights into this most important issue. School choice in the District of Columbia is an idea whose time has come. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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