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Another Democratic lawmaker for school choice – Algie Howell, podcastED

Algie Howell
Algie Howell

Algie Howell is a former public school teacher, a former school board member and a Democratic lawmaker from Virginia. He also happens to be a firm supporter of parental school choice – so much so, in fact, that he used a provocative term last week – “brainwashed” – to describe minorities who oppose private options such as vouchers and tax credit scholarships.

“I have a difficult job of selling this (school choice) to people, especially minorities, who have been to some degree brainwashed by unions and other people,” Howell said during a panel discussion at the Excellence in Action summit in Washington D.C.

In a follow-up interview with redefinED, Howell went into more detail, dismissing claims that school choice is an attempt to resegregate schools or that vouchers are a drain on public funding.

“If you have say 20 or 50 students that’s attending a public school, and they are not being provided with what they need in order to learn, and you take them out of there, and put them in a school where they can learn, you have not really lost anything,” he said in the podcast attached below. “You have gained something, because you have 50 students that benefited …. But they can’t see that.”

Howell is among growing numbers of Democratic lawmakers who support publicly funded, private learning options and defy the either/or caricatures perpetuated by school choice critics. He backed a tax credit scholarship bill that was signed into law last summer by Gov. Bob McDonnell. At the same time, one of his top campaign issues was higher pay for public school teachers. “For me, school choice is a strong Democratic value,” he said.

Howell said black churches and black ministers could do more to build support for school choice. He also said he wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama became a more forceful advocate for choice in his second term, including coming down squarely for the D.C. voucher program. “Does he not send his children to private school?” Howell said. “It’s kind of hard to argue, isn’t it?”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at