School choice is urgently needed to fulfill the promise of equal opportunity in education established by the Brown v. Board of Education decision and is “the civil rights issue of our generation,” declared longtime school choice advocate Clint Bolick at a National Press Club event on May 17, the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision.
Formerly vice president of the Institute for Justice, Bolick now heads the new national policy group, the Alliance for School Choice. (See related article, “IJ’s Bolick Takes Helm at School Choice Alliance,” page 7.) Other panelists at the event included Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, and Rebeca Nieves Huffman, president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (CREO).
“Millions of low-income children, disproportionately black and Hispanic, are consigned to abysmal public schools where violence, inferior quality, and low expectations are the norm,” said Bolick. In the very institutions that are supposed to provide mechanisms for student advancement, “dreams and aspirations are not nourished, but systematically destroyed,” he added, noting reforms such as busing, massive spending, and reduced class size had not solved the problem.
According to Bolick, what is needed to improve schools for low-income families is the same clout that has made schools in more affluent communities responsive to parent concerns: school choice. School choice, he said, allows children to leave failing schools and attend good ones–now.
“Our children cannot afford to wait five years–much less another 50–to make the promise of educational opportunity a reality,” said Bolick. “To honor the spirit of Brown, we need to empower parents and do it with immediate speed.”
Ford agreed, saying African-Americans were once again “being condemned to limited educational choices.
“Before Brown,” she said, “many fought to keep us out of good schools. Today many fight to keep us trapped in bad schools.”
Another panelist, Heather Prigg, a Washington Scholarship Fund recipient, discussed how school choice has influenced her education. Huffman, when describing the work of Hispanic CREO, also told how school choice had changed her life.
“I stand before you as a product of school choice, as the first generation in my family raised in the U.S. and the first person in my family to go to college,” she said.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].