Creating a Voice for Choice

Published April 1, 2006

Editor’s note: In late October of last year, Virginia Walden Ford executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, the organizing force behind the two-year-old and at-capacity school voucher program in the District of Columbia, spoke at a luncheon hosted by The Heartland Institute about the D.C. School Choice Incentive Act, which was passed by Congress in 2003. Her comments are excerpted below–the fourth in a several-part series.

One of the reasons we wrote the book [Voices, Choices, and Second Chances: How to Win the Battle to Bring Opportunity Scholarships to Your State, D.C. Parents for School Choice, 2005, $19.95] is because I felt a responsibility to get information out about how to organize parents–because it isn’t an easy thing to do, but with information it can be done.

So what we did, I think, is interesting: When we first wrote the book, people thought we’d tell our story, and it was going to be nice, and everybody would want to hear about it. But instead we did a real “how to” book. We outlined steps telling what to do, using our story anecdotally.

I encourage you to use it in your efforts. It is also a tribute to the parents involved in our effort, because they were pivotal in getting this done.

A lot of times the grassroots are not looked at as having done the big part of it, but I believe that it is everybody together that gets it done. So while you were out getting legislation written and talking to whatever contacts you had, we decided that we would give the legislators the faces of families that would be the beneficiaries of scholarships or any kind of school choice. So we began to go to the Hill.

It doesn’t take a thousand people. There were days when there were 25 of us. But we were in white T-shirts that said “D.C. Parents for School Choice.” We were all over the Hill, so it always appeared there were lots of us. The media would say, “How many in your organization?” And I would say, “Oh, a few.” They would say, “Hundreds?” And I would go, “Yeah.” At some point it did get to be hundreds, but initially it was a few really strong, energetic, excited parents who wanted something different for their children, and most of them who were involved in our effort had children in public schools that were failing.