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How dare you?

schoolchoicecapitolDespite the adage that you get more bees with honey, I will not sit idly by and allow Congressman Jose Serrano, Democrat from Bronx, NY, write an opinion for The Washington Post that is layered with obfuscation and misperceptions, without calling him on it.

Serrano is suddenly the focus of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program‘s supporters, forced by the unique circumstances of the federal government’s oversight of the District of Columbia, which he manages as chair of a nebulous Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Serrano is apparently angered that this position begets him calls from all over the nation – from people of all stripes and walks of life, who want children to have what they deserve and rarely get in the District’s traditional public schools – a good education that is also safe, also preparatory for life.

Serrano’s attitude to these calls – and the children affected – can best be considered ignorance. He says that local people should lobby their local leaders, as if their local leaders have the authority to spend federal money. By doing so, he also ignores that local people HAVE lobbied local leaders – tens of thousands of them – and those local leaders have endorsed the program and written Congress about that endorsement. The Mayor, the Chancellor of the city’s schools, a majority of the City Council, the former Mayor, the former City Council Education Chair, the Mayor’s staff. These are not Republicans, as Serrano wants us all to believe. These are Democrats, and predominantly people of color, who understand and care deeply about the people of this city, and who are happy to draw help from anyone who can or would want to help them, regardless of affiliation.

That’s what it means to be a true democrat – an individual open to many viewpoints and voices, which apparently, Serrano is not.

Finally, a word from a person who actually has deeper roots in the Bronx than he. My grandparents settled in the Bronx in the early part of the last century, and my mother was raised there. I grew up attending family functions in the Bronx. The area started as an enclave for European immigrants and over time, evolved into an enclave for immigrants from throughout our continent, drawing people of Latino descent from throughout the Hemisphere. But the people who populate the area are no less interested in great education than my ancestors. And today, despite the best of intentions by area leaders, the Bronx is ailing, with poverty and gangs just two of the indicators. But schools are slowly helping turn around the younger generation, thanks to charter schools that the city, the state, and education entrepreneurs have worked together to create. This is just one form of choice that exists. The same people Congressman Serrano proudly represent also draw heavily on Catholic schools. They would probably shudder if they knew that their Congressman opposed any opportunity out of poverty for those disadvantaged by circumstance, in any city. Indeed, Serrano’s own constituents rely heavily upon religious institutions to help them provide food, shelter, clothing and all social services to their community. Not one block in the Bronx is without a religious organization, most of which draw federal and state funds to help the state administer programs for the needy.

Such aid seems not to bother Congressman Serrano, even though the same principle is at work in the DC scholarship program he apparently abhors. That program provides federal funds in the form of scholarships to ensure that more children have access to poverty-fighting institutions, and they are only spent by the choice of Americans, living in the District, who want something better for their children.

And so I ask you, Congressman Serrano — How dare you write that this is a program whose fate lies in the hands of local leaders when you’ve made it clear you control the appropriations process for DC programs like this one? How dare you say this is a program that was imposed on the District by Republicans, when the individuals who fought tirelessly for years to see it enacted, and who still lobby you for its continuation are as varied in their composition as the neighborhood you call home?

Oppose the program if you wish, but don’t lie and say you do so because the program was imposed by Republicans and not supported locally. Tell the truth. And then stop complaining about how many calls you are getting from people around the country that support the program.  They pay your salary, and they want you to do your job, objectively, and without bias. And with appreciation for the needs of the people you serve.

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