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Jewish World Review Jan. 9, 2003 / 5 Shevat, 5763

Walter Williams

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Washington's education establishment | "Fiddling Whilst Rome Burns" was my column several weeks ago. It looked at the disastrous state of education in the nation's capitol, where at only one of the city's 19 high schools do as many as 50 percent of its students test as proficient in reading. At no school are 50 percent of the students proficient in math. At 12 of 19 high schools, more than 50 percent of the students test below basic in reading, and at some of those schools it's almost 80 percent. At 15 high schools, over 50 percent test below basic in math. In 12 of them, 70 percent to 99 percent do so.

One of the points I made is that you'll find performances like these in many predominantly black schools across the land, but what seems to be the primary concern of black politicians and civil rights organizations? It's what Sen. Trent Lott has said and whether the Confederate Flag is publicly displayed.

Recent news about the Washington education establishment makes this story even more sickening. According to The Washington Times and D.C. Watch (, the FBI, IRS, Department of Labor and the D.C. Inspector General's Office have been looking into suspected criminal conduct by officers of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU). While a complete accounting has yet to be done, the FBI's affidavit for a search and seizure warrant reveals that WTU officers converted "well in excess of $2,000,000 in union funds to their personal use by, among other things, (1) charging personal expenses to union-paid credit cards ... (2) writing union checks to themselves; and (3) writing and causing the writing of union checks to persons other than themselves, who then cashed the checks and made the cash proceeds available to union officers."

Among the union-paid purchases of Barbara A. Bullock, recently resigned president, were: a $20,000 mink coat, $500,000 worth of custom-made clothing, $20,000 worth of art and thousands of dollars worth of jewelry. Her union-paid purchases totaled in excess of $1 million.

Then there's James Baxter, WTU treasurer. He received thousands of dollars in direct payments and tens of thousands in American Express charges for restaurants, bars and nightclubs, gas for multiple vehicles, vehicle repairs and maintenance, art, flowers and other purchases.

The affidavit of Katherine L. Andrews', the special agent for the FBI, reports hundreds of thousands of dollars Washington Teachers Union funds embezzled by other union personnel for items ranging from personal household furniture to a $10,000 vacation in the Bahamas and supplying gifts for friends.

While Washington's criminal education establishment robs its teachers, the damage to teachers pales in comparison to the damage to the children of the district. That the undying and unquestionable support that Washington teachers gave to their unions is unwarranted is beyond question. Through educational vouchers, there's opportunity for changes that benefit both teachers, students and taxpayers.

Suppose parents were to receive a $6,000 voucher, that's less than the $10,500 per student expenditure now, for each school-age child? A group of teachers themselves might start their own private school. If the school enrolled 400 students, its revenue would be close to $2.5 million. Schools would emerge that tailored their education programs to differing needs.

Teachers, rather than administrators and union officials, would be in control and set the agenda. Parents would be empowered through choice. Students would get a much better education. Finally, taxpayers would be less burdened. It's a no-brainer that everyone benefits if we can get children out of high-cost, low quality schools into lower-cost, higher-quality schools. The only losers I see are teacher unions and the board of education.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate