Celebrating National School Choice Week

Not long ago, as I listened to my now 27-year-old son talk about his life and our family’s life, for a brief moment, I saw the 13-year-old boy who was having such a difficult time in school in 1997. I remembered, in that moment, how out of the blue, miraculously, we suddenly had an opportunity through a private scholarship from a concerned neighbor, to choose a school that was in his best interest. A school that would keep him safe, nurture his talents, and prepare him for life.  When I quickly came back to the present I saw a strong young man who has and will continue to make me proud.

School choice programs have made it possible for many mothers (and fathers and grandparents) raising children in troubled school systems to feel those same feelings I felt so many years ago...hope for the future.  Their children would have a chance to get out of bad neighborhood schools and embark upon a journey that would open doors for them and provide a real glimpse of a successful future.  They no longer would be forced to stay in schools where they were not getting the education they deserve.  They would be able to attend schools where they were safe and where they were able to stretch their academic wings and fly. 

Historically, low income parents have entrusted their children to schools without questioning whether they would be properly educated. Clearly, many of our nation’s public schools have failed them, and many parents have been made to feel that they had no educational alternatives. Attempts to contact the school or offers to volunteer were unheeded by a harsh and intimidating bureaucracy. For so long it was taken for granted by the educational establishment that parents should just sit back and let school systems take care of their kids. 

Many of them came to the point where they felt hopeless and helpless, which was often interpreted as not caring about their children. However, through their participation in school choice programs, we have seen that, when children are placed in nurturing educational environments, they succeed and their parents become active and involved.

We see children in our D.C. program like Ronald Hollassie, a senior at Archbishop Carroll High School, thriving academically.  We see former OSP students like Tiffany Dunston, now in her sophomore year at Syracuse University, who graduated Valedictorian from Archbishop Carroll HS. Or Jordan White, a sophomore at Oberlin College, and Carolos Battle, a freshman at Northeastern University, exceeding all our expectations for academic success.  Jordan and Carlos both graduated from Georgetown Day School. All of these students would have attended troubled D.C. high schools if they had not had a scholarship to attend the schools their parents chose which met their educational needs. We must protect children like Carlos and Ronald and Tiffany and Jordan, who are bright and capable and who get lost in schools that don’t nurture their talents.

Many of us who support parental choice believe that the ability to choose where our children go to school is a right that every parent should be able to exercise – not just those who have the financial means to do so.  The simple fact is that school choice is widespread for families who can afford to either buy homes in neighborhoods with high-performing schools or pay private school tuition.  The only families who historically have been unable to exercise educational choice are poor families, the majority of which are black or Hispanic.

School choice programs have given our children a chance to be free. It has opened all doors of possibilities for them for the future.  We, as a nation, must continue to fight for our children’s education...too much is at stake.

Virginia Walden Ford is Executive Director of D.C. Parents for School Choice.

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