“No School Choice for You!”

If you’re the kind of revolutionary, trailblazing, damn-all-conventions parent who wants your child to have–gasp!–a quality education, and you would like to have the ability to get your child into quality schools just like rich people do, then you don’t have a friend in the Obama administration:

One of President Barack Obama’s conceits is that he is a pragmatist who seeks policies that work rather than pursuing a partisan agenda. On school choice, he doesn’t live up to the advertisement. His administration has been relentless in its ideological hostility to the idea, and seized on every possible pretext to express that hostility.

The White House considers any government funding for private or parochial education, even indirect funding, to be a betrayal of the public schools. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — which provides federally funded vouchers for poor kids in Washington to attend private schools — seems to have had some positive results, including higher high-school graduation rates for participants. Yet the Obama administration, not generally known for its tightfistedness, has repeatedly tried to end funding for it.

This position was terribly misguided, but it was at least open and transparent. Twice this year, the White House has gone after local school-choice programs — which involve no federal funding — in a more underhanded way.

In April, the Justice Department announced that private schools that participate in a choice program in Milwaukee will be subject to new regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They will be treated as though they were government contractors. Never mind that the schools have contracts with parents, not with the government that aids the parents. Never mind, either, that in the program’s 22 years of operation no complaint about the treatment of a disabled student has ever been filed. A five-year study of the program found that being disabled had no bearing on a student’s likelihood of getting into a participating school.

The decision will nonetheless raise costs for the private schools. It will also make them think twice about participating, both because they want to avoid those costs and because they don’t want to compromise their independence.

Read on for a discussion of the administration’s decision to sue Bobby Jindal’s school choice program in Louisiana, which has been covered here. It is perhaps trite to recycle that old line about education being the focus of the civil rights struggle of our time, but just because the line may be trite doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. It’s bad enough that the Obama administration won’t promote school choice in DC. It is even worse that–as Ramesh Ponnuru notes–it is trying to suffocate school choice efforts in states and localities around the country, and that it is on the wrong side of the civil rights struggle as a consequence.