Thousands of students, parents, state leaders, and school choice advocates came together in New Orleans for the second National School Choice Week to show their support for education opportunity.
“[Approximately] 2,500 parents all gathered together to support effective education options for parents,” noted Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Indiana-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. This made for one of the most enthusiastic and energetic school choice gatherings yet.
With marching bands from schools near New Orleans, rallying speeches from state education leaders, and celebrities such as the Temptations, Ellis Marsalis, “Trombone Shorty,” and James Carville, the New Orleans event underscored national momentum for a series of more than 400 events across the nation in celebration of NSCW.
“The purpose of our National School Choice Kickoff in New Orleans … was to begin a week-long push to inform and educate millions of Americans about the power of school choice and to show them just how necessary change in the current school system is,” explained Brian Nething, NSCW’s outreach director. “We aimed to bring together hundreds of schools and organizations in one place to urge them to celebrate it in their state and demand school choice in states that do not have it.”
More than 30 governors, mayors, and legislators officially recognized School Choice Week this year. Television coverage of school choice increased 492 percent during that week compared with the yearly average.
Choice Thrives in New Orleans
New Orleans is home to a voucher program and a robust charter school system. Nearly 70 percent of New Orleans public schools are charters, according to a 2011 Rand report. Louisiana also provides a vouchers program for special needs students.
“If you live in New Orleans, you live in the heart of the reform movement that is sweeping across this country,” said Chas Roemer, a Louisiana State Board of Education member.
After attending the kickoff, Matthew Barnes, executive director at the Houston-based Families Empowered, mentioned meeting a Louisiana parent who has two children in a district public school and two others in separate charters.
“He was satisfied with each option, loved the choices he had selected, and thought his kids were doing ‘very well,'” Barnes said. “We need more of that.”
Spreading School Choice
Louisiana leaders are committed to providing more. In January, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) unveiled a plan to reform the state’s education system and expand school choice opportunities for Louisiana families.
His proposal includes making the New Orleans private school voucher program available statewide for students attending “C” grade schools or below—approximately half of all schoolchildren statewide—streamlining the process for charter school approvals, and tax credits for those who contribute to private school scholarships.
In his speech at the kickoff event, Roemer spoke of Louisiana’s continued commitment to expanding school choice.
“We’re going to do something radical in this state. We’re going to allow a parent, when they wake up in the morning, to have a choice of where they send their child to school,” he said. “The most powerful tool we have to change education in this state is choice. And it comes in all forms.”
The New Orleans school choice event enthused participants from around the nation looking to increase education opportunities for students in their own state.
“[The] event made a powerful statement in support of more educational options for parents,” Barnes remarked. “Coming from Houston, where choice is a relatively new but growing reality, I left more convinced than ever of the value of choice and competition in our educational system.”
Image by woodleywonderworks.