Anyone who thinks nothing works in Washington should have been at the Washington Hilton Wednesday as House Speaker John Boehner, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams raised a record $2 million in scholarship funds for children attending the four schools that make up the city's Consortium of Catholic Academies.
The event went off without any partisan rancor, any bickering or any of the other unbecoming aspects of governance that have been all too much in view of late in the nation's capital.
The bipartisan effort that is now the Boehner-Williams-Feinstein dinner began as the result of work that the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Boehner, who was then chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, did together a decade ago to shepherd former President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative through the Congress. That year the two men – one a Democrat, one a Republican – decided to do something personally and privately for the underprivileged children in the nation's capital by establishing a dinner to raise funds to be used to give scholarships to some of the city's poorest children so they could afford to attend one of the four inner-city pre-K through eighth grade Catholic academies in the consortium.
Kennedy, who died in 2009, was succeeded as the dinner's co-chairman by Williams, and, a year later, by Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman, who lent his name to the event until 2012 when he retired from the U.S. Senate.
The schools that make up the consortium are in some of Washington's most under-served neighborhoods. The demographics of the students attending those schools mirror those of their peers in the nearby public schools: 99 percent are minorities, 66 percent are non-Catholics, 51 percent are being raised in single-parent families and 41 percent live at or below the federal poverty line.
The program has been a roaring success on an order of magnitude that should make the professional educators who run the D.C. school system blanch. As of May 2012, 100 percent of the eighth graders in the four schools graduated on time. Nearly 90 percent were accepted into prominent Catholic, private or magnet high schools in the D.C. area, including Georgetown Prep, Gonzaga and Georgetown Visitation.
A good education is the key to unlocking the future. The scholarships that the Boehner-Williams-Feinstein dinner funds work and should be copied in other cities. They are an example of what is best about this country. This is an event that is all about people helping people, regardless of ideology and without depending on the government to do the heavy lifting.
Wednesday's dinner set a record for the event and the only thing in the room bigger than the giant check presented were the smiles on the faces of the children attending who knew they would be benefiting from the scholarships the money would provide.