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School Choice, Chicago Style: Arne Duncan’s List of the Rich and Powerful

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, while serving as Chicago Public Schools chief, maintained a list of special requests from politically connected¬†individuals for children to attend the city’s best schools. The information, reported today by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, is the focus of a federal probe and investigation by the school district inspector general.

According to the Tribune:

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. … The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Duncan’s role comes amid growing concerns in the District of Columbia over the fate of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a signature school choice initiative that benefits low-income families. As education secretary, Duncan has overseen the dismantling of the program, which the Obama Administration has essentially left to die after strident opposition from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and teacher unions.

Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget cuts funding for the program, leaving just $8 million for scholarship recipients for the remainder of their time in the program. And despite appeals from D.C. parents last August, Duncan withdrew the scholarships of 216 students who had been admitted to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Those students are attending lower-performing schools as a result.

The irony, of course, is that Duncan himself attended the exclusive University of Chicago Lab Schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

One has to wonder: What does Arne Duncan have against low-income students who, for the first time in decades, have found an effective education in the District of Columbia? Shouldn’t these students have the same opportunities as the rich and powerful who appealed to him for help in Chicago?

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