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Chelsea's Choice of Schools

ON the face of it, there was nothing very remarkable about the Clintons' decision to enroll their daughter in a top private school in the Washington area. In doing so, they clearly exercised their judgment on what was best for 13-year-old Chelsea.

One factor, doubtless, was Chelsea's peace of mind. The president's daughter would attract attention in any classroom, but the chances of her feeling like an object on display are smaller at the Sidwell Friends school than at the inner-city junior high down the street from the White House.

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The Clintons denied that the quality of public education in Washington played any role in their decision. That's not totally credible. Like most large American cities, Washington has some strong public schools, but by and large public education in the capital is underfunded and poorly managed.

Given Bill Clinton's long advocacy of public education, some will see irony in his daughter attending an expensive private institution. Back in Little Rock, she attended public schools.

In fact, Clinton's own educational background was in parochial and private schools. That didn't keep him from becoming an effective advocate for public education as governor, and Chelsea's attendance at Sidwell won't detract from his efforts to be an "education president." He recognizes that the public systems that educate most American children have to be the focus of government's concern.

Under President Bush, that concern centered on the idea of school choice - giving parents the wherewithal to choose the school, public or private, they preferred. Some backers of choice label Clinton a hypocrite for choosing a private school for his daughter while opposing voucher schemes that, theoretically, would give the same option to low-income parents.

That charge misses its mark. Choice programs that generate competition and improvement among public elementary and secondary schools have merit.

But programs that would siphon public money into private and parochial institutions would undercut public education. Clinton is right to oppose making this a national policy.

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