Chelsea Goes to School

These days, politics is often more symbolism than substance. Take the hoopla over the Clintons' decision to send their daughter Chelsea to a private school when they move to Washington. A private school . . . ! The announcement was greeted by a collective gasp from the D.C. education establishment. How could Clinton miss this wonderful opportunity to make a symbolic statement for public education? grumbled school officials. This really "goes against all the things Clinton has said in support of public schools," charged a parent advocate. "Rank hypocrisy," fumed a policy analyst. Well, I for one refuse to join those who are jumping on Clinton and accusing him of hypocrisy. Having worked in the White House, I know the pressure-cooker life presidents' families endure. I know the security problems they put up with. And I can well understand the Clintons' hesitation about sending Chelsea to a system that has to install metal detectors to catch the knives and guns kids carry in. Academically, the D.C. schools rank among the lowest in the nation. Five studies last year all came to the same dismal conclusion. So, no--I don't accuse Bill Clinton of being a hypocrite. He's only doing what every good father would do: He's sending his child to the very best school he can afford. But here's the catch: What about parents who can't afford good schools? What about ordinary working people who don't earn his $200,000-plus-expenses salary? They don't have the same choices open to them that the Clintons have. Having seen the inner-city school system with its jungle atmosphere up close, maybe Clinton will sympathize better with these low-income parents. And maybe he'll see why so many inner-city parents support school choice, a system where public money goes straight to parents instead of to schools, allowing families to pick the school of their choice. I think of Polly Williams, who almost single-handedly pushed through a choice policy in Milwaukee. As a black, single mother of four children, Polly Williams saw no hope for her kids to get a good education in the inner-city public schools. She fought tooth and nail to get a voucher system passed to assist low-income parents. School choice is tailor-made for inner-city parents like Polly Williams who want to give their kids a good education but can't afford private schools. Where does Bill Clinton stand on the issue? It's hard to say. In 1990 he sent Polly Williams a letter praising her efforts. But two years later, during the presidential campaign, he came out against school choice. Now that he's come face to face with the issue with his own daughter, perhaps we can hope he'll swing back again. I don't agree with those who say Bill Clinton is a hypocrite for sending Chelsea to a prestigious private school. But he will be a hypocrite of the first rank if he continues to oppose school choice: if he continues to stand in the way of a system that would enable poor children to enjoy the same privileges as his own daughter. Welcome to Washington, Mr. Clinton.


Chuck Colson


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