September 9 2009
Vicki E. Alger
A policy analyst with the Independent Women's Forum says President Barack Obama needs to follow today's educational speech with some action. But The Cato Institute says the president has no authority to be involved in education.
President Obama told students at Wakefield High in a Washington suburb, and children watching on TV at schools nationwide, that "every single one of you has something to offer." He says all the support from teachers and parents will not matter if students do not fulfill their responsibilities.
Although Obama's speech did not include any references to controversial issues such as healthcare reform, one student asked Obama during a small-group meeting before the speech why the country does not have universal health insurance. Obama replied, "I think we need it. I think we can do it." (See earlier story with text of speech)
What about educational choice?
On the same day Obama delivered his speech to America's schools, a group in the District of Columbia held protests outside of the Department of Education. The group wants Congress to reinstate the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has helped 1,700 students leave underperforming and dangerous inner city schools.
Students who participated in the program have been found to excel in their education and even outperform their peers. However, when Congress cut the funding for the program, 216 scholarship holders had their scholarships rescinded.
Vicki Murray with the DC-based Independent Women's Forum says on one hand Obama is encouraging children to excel in school, while on the other he is cutting educational choice in his own backyard.
"What we have going on right now are 216 low-income students who are trying to do exactly what the president was urging all of America's students to do -- namely, take every opportunity [and] use it to the fullest extent of their potential," Murray explains. "And the president...and his entire administration effectively took that away when they killed the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program."
Murray says the scholarship program was providing children with an excellent education at a fraction of the $28,000-per-pupil cost of DC public schools. She says there needs to be less talk and more action on the educational front -- and a good place to start, she believes, is with reinstating the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Obama is not the first president to give such a pep talk as the school year begins. But conservative groups and individuals had accused Obama of stepping too far into local education. School districts in some areas decided not to show his midday speech. In order to quell some of the controversy surrounding Obama's address to schools, the White House released a copy of the speech on Labor Day.
Among the groups expressing concern following the speech is The Cato Institute, which is located in the nation's capital. Neal McClusky of The Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom voiced concern over the content of the speech. (Listen to audio report)
"This is not as bad a speech as people thought it might be after they read very loaded curriculum guidance from the department of education," he says. "However, if you first of all look at the trappings of the speech -- here is President Obama in front of the big throng, the camera pans around to show all the admiring people, they're playing the president's song, they're playing patriotic American songs on his way out.
"That looked very much, very much like a campaign stop that was about President Obama -- not about the kids."
McClusky even questions whether or not the president has the authority or the ability to fix America's school system.
"If you look at the Constitution, the president has no authority to be involved in education, yet now he's essentially the national 'father figure'...he is the national curriculum specialist, he's everything," says McClusky. "And no president can either do that as a practical matter -- really control and provide good education -- and as a constitutional matter, it's not something he is supposed to be involved in at all."
The uproar over the president's speech was caused in part by an accompanying lesson plan -- the "loaded guidance" McClusky refers to -- encouraging students to "help the president." The White House later revised the idea.