Obama—Who Opposes School Choice—Touts Sotomayor's ‘Good’ Catholic Education

By Terence P. Jeffrey | May 27, 2009 | 6:48 PM EDT

President Barack Obama announces federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, right, as his nominee for the Supreme Court, Tuesday, May 26, 2009, in an East Room ceremony of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama—who opposes school choice in general and whose education secretary last month prevented any new children from entering a school-choice program in Washington, D.C.--touted the fact that his Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, was sent to a Catholic school by a hard-working mother who was determined that her children were going to get a “good education.”

The president did not say why Mrs. Sotomayor did not trust her daughter’s education to government-run schools in New York.

“When Sonia was nine, her father passed away,” Obama said Tuesday when introducing Sotomayor at the White House  “And her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to provide for Sonia and her brother--who is also here today, is a doctor and a terrific success in his own right.  But Sonia’s mom bought the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood, sent her children to a Catholic school called Cardinal Spellman out of the belief that with a good education here in America all things are possible.”

As Obama presented it, this early education at a Catholic school—not a New York public school--set Sotomayor on the path to success at Princeton and then at Yale Law School.

“With the support of family, friends, and teachers, Sonia earned scholarships to Princeton, where she graduated at the top of her class, and Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal, stepping onto the path that led her here today,” said Obama.

In March, Obama signed an omnibus appropriations bill that said no new money will be spent on Washington, D.C.’s school-choice program after the 2009-2010 school year unless the program is reauthorized—something a Democratic majority Congress is unlikely to do. The program was initiated under President Bush.

In April, Education Secretary Arne Duncan effectively terminated the D.C. school-choice program by ruling that no new students will be allowed to enter the program in the coming school year.

Earlier this month, Obama made a temporary concession by announcing he would seek sufficient funds for the program in the coming years to allow the 1,716 students already receiving school vouchers to continue to receive the vouchers until they complete high school.
After that, the program would disappear.

In his last presidential campaign debate with Sen. John McCain last fall, Obama criticized McCain for wanting to expand the D.C. school choice program.

“The centerpiece of Sen. McCain's education policy is to increase the voucher program in D.C. by 2,000 slots," Obama said in that debate. "That leaves all of you who live in the other 50 states without an education reform policy from Sen. McCain. So if we are going to be serious about this issue, we've got to have a president who is going to tackle it head-on, and that's what I intend to do as president."

Obama also told Time magazine during the campaign that he opposed school choice as a matter of principle.  "Should parents be given vouchers to enable them to send their children to any school?" the magazine asked.

"No,” answered Obama. “I believe that public education in America should foster innovation and provide students with varied, high-quality learning opportunities.”

Obama sends his two daughters to Sidwell Friends, a private academy where the elementary school costs $28,442.