A Choice for Chelsea

January 10, 1993

In deciding to send their daughter Chelsea to an expensive private school in Washington, Bill and Hillary Clinton acknowledge urban public schools are in trouble. It's a fact of life in America today, one that isn't widely discussed in politics and the media, where the vast majority of practitioners already live in suburban districts (where public education is superior), can afford to escape to the suburbs when the school going gets rough or can afford private-school tuition. Among those choosing the private school route are the black mayors of Washington and Baltimore, Sharon Pratt Kelly and Kurt L. Schmoke, and most members of Congress.

Those conservatives who criticize the Clintons for failing to do the SC -- symbolically correct -- thing are clucking up the wrong tree. No parents, up to and including First Parents, are obligated to choose inferior education for their children because it would "look right."

School choices are among the most important decisions parents make. To choose a second-rate school for the sake of appearances is to violate parents' sacred obligations to seek the best for their children. It's a matter of family values.

Yes, the Carters did it, but that was 16 years ago. Can anyone argue the public schools -- especially junior and middle schools -- in Washington have improved in the nearly two decades elapsed?

One doesn't have to be a private school tuition-payer to be a staunch public school supporter. The challenge for Bill and Hillary Clinton is to throw their considerable influence behind the improvement of public education in the District, in Baltimore and everywhere else it has hit rock-bottom. Ironically, that might be facilitated by the school choice for Chelsea. Not only will the Clintons learn how an excellent Quaker school operates on a daily basis; each major education decision the president makes will be weighed in his mind against his family's opting for Sidwell Friends School.

It just could make the president an even more ardent supporter of public schools. Perhaps from this perspective, the choice for Chelsea is a blessing in disguise.

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