Today marks the beginning of National School Choice Week, a time when school choice advocates across the nation will hold events to highlight effective educational options for every child.
Less than ten years ago there were only a few school choice programs serving the needs of US families. But by 2006, eight states had enacted new school choice programs or expanded existing options. These options include taxpayer-funded scholarships to help students attend private elementary or secondary schools of choice, as well as tax credits or deductions for educational expenses.
In each of the fights to bring school choice to the states and the District of Columbia there have been strong parent voices. We have seen many parents, for the first time, become partners of change; excited about how their children are learning and what lies ahead for them in obtaining the American dream of getting the quality education they deserve.
My personal experience with school choice has sent me on an incredible journey. In February 2003, legislation that would provide 2000 scholarships for low income children to attend the school of their choice was introduced to Congress. With an outcry of support from D.C. parents and with the support of key members of Congress, we began a long journey that would be made stronger when D.C. elected officials stood up and voiced their support for school choice.
After 11 months of fighting the opposition, the D.C. Choice Bill was passed on January 22, 2004 and signed into law by President Bush. More than 3000 children have received scholarships to attend 66 private schools since D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was implemented. D.C. parents played an important role in this effort to bring about change in education in the District and continue to be advocates for their children.
We have seen that when children are placed in educational environments of their parents’ choice, they succeed and their parents become active and involved. It changes their lives so much when their children are doing well in educational environments. It is with such joy that because of expanded educational options for the families who have had no choice, we see happy endings… not only for the children, but also their families and their communities.
We must not lose focus as we continue to work diligently to improve education for all children. We know that the opposition will work hard to undermine any steps we have taken. We have to continue to work hard in our advocacy and not take for granted that we are done. We must not stop fighting until every child is in an environment where they are receiving the best education possible. We must again hit the road to help empower parents in our cities to raise their voices for their children to receive the quality education they deserve.
Virginia Walden Ford is a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.