Vetoing Justice

  Virginia Walden is a lifelong Democrat—but these days she's furious with President Clinton. Walden is a single mother in Washington, D.C. who didn't want her son attending Roosevelt High School. It's a public school with a history of problems with drugs and violence. So with the help of a friend, Walden was able to raise the money to send her son to a Catholic school, where he's learning, excelling at track, and thinking about college. So why is Walden so mad at Bill Clinton? Because last month he vetoed a bill that would have provided $7 million for 2,000 poor District kids to attend private schools. Kids just like her son. In vetoing this measure, the president denied the District's poor residents the same choice he exercised: the choice to escape Washington public schools and send his own daughter to a top private one. Well, thankfully, some private citizens have a keener sense of justice. Among them is Wall Street financier Ted Forstmann. After Clinton vetoed the voucher bill, Forstmann announced that he and John Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, were contributing $50 million a piece to a foundation to provide private scholarships for poor, inner-city kids. Their goal, Forstmann, said is to give "poor children the same choice as children with money." Good for them. All over America, businessmen, parents, and churches are setting up similar scholarship funds, and everywhere they're being offered, the demand far exceeds the supply. For example, two years ago in New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the New York Catholic Archdiocese created a program to provide 1,000 scholarships to parochial schools. More than 22,000 poor parents applied for the scholarships. This demand speaks volumes about the confidence inner-city parents place in our public schools. And who can blame them? In Washington, taxpayers spend a hefty $8,000 per pupil. And yet, 89 percent of tenth graders scored below grade level in math on a national achievement test. So why did the president veto even a modest effort to help these kids? Because he and his allies in the educational establishment are ideologically committed to propping up the public school system—and keeping the teacher's lobby happy—even if it means sacrificing millions of kids in the process. And that's why poor parents like Virginia Walden are so angry. As Walden wrote in a letter to the Washington Post, "those who think that saving the system should take precedence over an individual child don't know what it is like to see a child begin to act like a hoodlum because of a school environment." And she adds, "The way I see it, those who opposed the vouchers—despite all the rhetoric—showed that they don't really care about low-income parents and even less about their children." Walden is right. You and I, on every single occasion we have, ought to urge our state and national lawmakers to support voucher programs. And if no one has begun a scholarship program for poor kids in your town, talk to your pastor about trying to start one. And someone ought to remind the president and the Washington politicians of the words of the prophet Amos: God will not hold innocent those who sell the poor for a pair of sandals—or for that matter for campaign money from the education lobby.


Chuck Colson


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