March 4, 2009 5:33PM

Ed Secretary Crosses Congressional Democrats on DC Vouchers

Libby Quaid, the Associated Press’s intrepid DC education correspondent, has just broken the biggest education story of the year to date: Education Secretary Arne Duncan opposes congressional Democrats’ efforts to kick kids out of the DC voucher program and back into the public schools.

While Duncan said he opposes vouchers, he added that, “D.C. is a special case,” saying that “kids already going to private schools on the public dime should be allowed to continue.”

I confess, I’m surprised by even the qualified support for DC vouchers expressed by Duncan — surprised, and delighted. From the sound of it, though, Duncan is suggesting only that existing participants be grandfathered into the program, not that any additional children should be allowed to join them.

And Duncan makes a misstep when he implies that school choice can only “help a handful of children.”

Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and a host of other nations have large school choice programs already. The Dutch program is nearly a century old and private schools enroll nearly three quarters of the student population. As for Duncan’s desire to create new schools that will serve whole neighborhoods, he need only visit Milwaukee to see the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in creating new private schools in some of the most depressed parts of the city, thanks to that city’s private school choice program.

School choice is not only good for kids and communities, it’s good for taxpayers. The government of Florida’s own accountability office reported last year that its statewide k‐​12 education tax credit program is saving $1.50 for every dollar it costs to operate.

Will Duncan’s comment rescue the voucher program from Senate Democrats who are set to vote on the bill in question this week? Stay tuned.