By Rushad Thomas, JMI Intern and Florida A&M University Senior in Political Science
Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, it was common on the campus of my beloved Florida A&M University to see students walking around with t-shirts featuring an image of then-candidate Barack Obama and the tag line of “Hope” or “Change” appended to the bottom. Obama’s candidacy was heralded by many young people, who saw in the President’s vision of America a better future for themselves and their families.The “Hope” and “Change” mantra, however, has conveniently (and conspicuously) slipped largely out of view in the conversation surrounding Obama’s policies. With the unemployment rate continuing to hover just above nine percent and low-to-no economic growth stagnating the economy, it’s not difficult to see why many people have soured to President Obama’s approach to governance. Fewer and fewer are seeing any real “hope” emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.That’s why I was discouraged when the President announced in 2009 that funding for new D.C. students to enroll in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program would be withdrawn. The public school system in our nation’s capital is well-known for being among the worst in the nation, despite the fact that it has the highest per-student spending ratio for any municipality in the nation.Luckily, House Speaker John Boehner made the revival of the school choice program one of his top legislative priorities, and attached his Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act to the Continuing Resolution that was passed to avert a looming government shutdown back in March. Now $20 million will be available to help D.C. students escape the cycle of failure that is nurtured and promoted by academically challenged public schools.D.C. isn’t the only place where real hope has been afforded to families seeking a better education for their children. Indiana stands out as a one of the shining examples of positive education reform in the States. The expanded school voucher program in the Hoosier State not only allows poor and disabled children to have access to the schools that most meets their needs, but now middle class families are also able to participate in the program. 3,669 Indiana schoolchildren will receive vouchers to go to the school of their choice this upcoming academic year.School Choice is vital. Education should not be about preserving a bureaucracy; it should be about educating children. The teacher’s unions, of all people, should recognize that, yet they are at the forefront of opposition to the expansion of school choice. Their unyielding opposition puzzles me tremendously, since the child’s academic needs should be the focus of our educational system, not the whims of the unions. I trust they’ll come to see that some day, and expect that right here in Florida the procedural hurdles that have blocked progress towards universal school choice will be lifted, and true Hope can be extended to disadvantaged young people in our State.