John Boehner, friend of disadvantaged D.C. students

John Boehner has received plenty of criticism from conservatives over his handling of the House Speakership, and some of it is deserved. But here’s a little known accomplishment of Boehner’s for which, I think, he deserves considerable credit: he created and kept alive a private school voucher program for the District of Columbia public schools.

Through Boehner’s D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, 6,252 low-income District students have gone to parochial or other private schools. Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post provides the back story:

One of 12 siblings whose working-class parents scrounged to come up with Catholic school tuition, Boehner was a firm believer in private school vouchers. But he couldn’t get the votes to impose them nationwide. So he focused on the District, which often serves as a laboratory of sorts for congressional intervention, thanks to a unique system of federal oversight.

In 2004, Congress approved $15 million to give up to $7,500 per year to low-income D.C. residents to cover private school costs.

Boehner became a frequent presence in the schools for which the vouchers were used:

“He would go into every classroom in every school, every year, alone,” said Elizabeth McGrann, director of development at the Consortium of Catholic Academies. “He calls them ‘My kids.’ He knows them.”

Boehner was unable to maintain this practice once he became Speaker. So instead, he brought students to him, inviting them to attend the White House Christmas tree lighting, the State of the Union address, and the pope’s speech last month.

When President Obama took office, he wanted to end the voucher program, a bugaboo of the teachers’ unions. However, Boehner was able to get it reauthorized and expanded to $20 million in 2011 as part of a budget deal with the White House.

Democrats continue to hate the program, of course. They cite a 2009 study that found no statistically significant improvement in math skills and no consistent pattern of statistically significant improvement in reading skills.

However, students who received vouchers were more likely to graduate, and parents were more satisfied and believed their children were more safe.

I think I’ll take the word of parents over that of special interest groups and the Democratic politicians who kowtow to them.

One parent recounted that her daughter’s public elementary school was “failing her.” “She wasn’t working at her full potential,” the parent complained. Using vouchers, the girl was able to attend a Baptist church school and then a small private high school. She’s now in college.

How many parents have similar stories to tell? I don’t know. But multiply this story even just a few dozen times and John Boehner has a better legacy than the vast majority of those who come to Washington DC.