Message from an education choice advocate: ‘Lift up your voice’

Editor’s note: This post was written exclusively for redefinED by Najimah Roberson, a mother of three and chief executive officer of Harrisburg Families United.

The national nonprofit organization EdChoice, arguably one of the most committed advocacy groups working to empower families to choose the schooling environment that best fits their children’s needs, defines school choice like this:

School choice allows public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs – whether that’s to a public school, private school, charter school, homeschool or any other learning environment families choose.

That sounds pretty straightforward, right? But over the years, as I’ve advocated for education choice myself, both as a parent and as an organizer, I’ve learned that people sometimes create alternative definitions to suit their purposes – and their political agendas.

Some lawmakers, for instance, define education choice as a threat to public schools. They characterize state scholarship programs as “entitlement” programs.

What burns my soul is that even as they’re throwing up roadblocks to choice, they’re exercising their ability to choose whatever school they want simply because of their economic ability to do so. It’s of no importance to them that the laws they enact deny people like me, a woman supporting three children on a limited income, those same privileges.

You don’t have to be a genius to see that most failing public schools are in neighborhoods where low-income people live. Which group of people most often fall into that economic bracket? Minorities. People like me. Which reminds me of something one of my college professors used to say: “We Americans need people in poverty.”

Whoa. What?

It made my blood boil when she said that, and I only got more upset when she went on to say that if we didn’t have a lower-income class, there wouldn’t be anybody to flip burgers or be janitors.

Before she got that sentence out of her mouth, I hopped up with a face full of tears. Being the only Black person in the class, I may have taken it harder than my peers. But I just couldn’t contain myself.

I yelled back, “We don’t need people in poverty, we need people to start caring again – caring about each other and caring about where we live.”

All these years later, I still believe that with all my heart.

It’s our responsibility to care about all children, regardless of their economic means. We cannot simply sit back and allow our children to be pushed through underperforming schools, unprepared for the rest of their lives when they leave 12th grade. It’s our responsibility to fight for the right of every parent to determine the best school for his or her child.

If you can’t travel to your state house, write a letter. If you can’t write a letter, send an email. But raise up your voice and be heard. Do it forcefully. Do it fervently. Do it frequently.

Our children are counting on you.

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BY Special to NextSteps

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