For community organizers, parental empowerment is not about party politics.

Edit Barry is a mother, activist, writer and education blogger from Baltimore who criticized my recent blog post connecting feminism with school choice, where I wrote:

The school choice movement is founded on the empowerment of teachers and custodial parents. Since most teachers and custodial parents are women and since feminism is about empowering women, the school choice movement is rooted, in part, in feminism.

In a comment to my post, Edit asked me to defend my position by more precisely defining feminism and giving examples of local feminists who support school choice.

Feminism is part of the movement to democratize power. Feminists seek to ensure women’s abilities to acquire and use social, economic and political power are not inhibited by their gender. Most feminist activism occurs in local communities.

Yvonne Clayton-Reed is an African-American woman who taught in the Pinellas County school district for 34 years. Twenty years ago, Yvonne retired on a Friday and on the following Monday used her retirement funds to open a private school in the basement of her church. Yvonne is passionate about teaching black children how to read, and she’s especially proud of her work with low-income black boys.

Yvonne is a legendary educator in our neighborhood and, despite health challenges, refuses to quit. In addition to her work in the classroom, she’s also a community organizer and political activist. Two years ago, when we held a rally in Tallahassee to support scholarships for high-poverty children, Yvonne filled two buses and led her families to the Capitol steps in her wheelchair.

Suzette Dean moved from the Islands to Florida as a teenager and ended up earning an education degree from the University of South Florida in Tampa. While at USF, Suzette began tutoring students and when she graduated she and her husband Daniel decided to open a church and school in one of Tampa’s highest poverty neighborhoods. They had few financial resources but managed to borrow enough money to purchase a small piece of land and with their own hands built a small church and school.

Today Suzette is raising five children while running a K-12 private school with about 100 students. She is also the chief administrator for the church, runs an afterschool tutoring program for the neighborhood public middle school and helps Daniel with a variety of community development projects.

Yvonne and Suzette are feminists who utilize school choice to improve their communities. Unfortunately many state and national feminist leaders want to deny these women and their communities the empowerment that comes from school choice. For example, the National Organization for Women’s website refers to school choice advocates as “right wingers” who “are intent on passing an array of voucher proposals and tax credit proposals that favor the well-to-do.” And in Pennsylvania the state NOW branch recently opposed a tax credit scholarship for low-income students to attend private schools.

I know most feminist leaders are Democrats and since Jimmy Carter changed the Democratic Party’s position on parental choice in 1976, most Democrats now oppose private school choice. But for community organizers like Suzette and Yvonne, parental empowerment is not about party politics or ideology. It’s about having the tools they need to empower and enable the low-income families in their communities.

I hope Ms. Barry will one day visit Tampa Bay and talk with Suzette, Yvonne and other local activists about how publicly-funded private school choice impacts their community development work. I’m sure she’ll find the dialogue interesting and these women inspiring.

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BY Doug Tuthill

A lifelong educator and former teacher union president, Tuthill has been president of Step Up For Students since August 2008.