Reform Activist Inspires Parents at Heartland Event

Published January 1, 2006

Editor’s note: In late October 2005, Virginia Walden Ford–executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, the organizing force behind the two-year-old, at-capacity school voucher program in the District of Columbia–spoke at a luncheon hosted by The Heartland Institute, the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation, and the Institute for Justice. Her comments are excerpted below in the first installment in a several-part series. Look for future installments over the next several issues of School Reform News.

I want to start out by telling you a little bit about how I got involved in this effort, because I think that is really important for folks to know.

About 10 years ago, I had a child who was failing in the D.C. public schools, and I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand. I was doing everything right. I was a parent that was always there. And he was just coming home and getting into trouble and doing all these things that were just disturbing to me, and I couldn’t help him. I just didn’t know how to.

There was no hope. I was backed up against a wall; I had nowhere to turn. I was a single parent. I didn’t have resources to send him anywhere but to the public school. And it was so frustrating for me.

Private Scholarship Turned Tide

I was very lucky because somebody came to our defense, and I got a private scholarship for him to attend a parochial school, which just turned his life around–I mean absolutely turned his life around. Within weeks, we’re talking about a very dramatic change in behavior and his involvement in education.

He eventually graduated and is an adult now, but that dramatic change in him left an incredible impression on me.

And I thought that if this could happen and change this one child, then certainly other children could be changed as a result of something being offered to them that would allow them to take advantage of the educational dream, if you will. I became a really strong advocate, volunteering to work on behalf of other children in the District, because I felt that if I could be out there myself and encourage other parents to be out there, then possibly we could get something done.

For more information …

Virginia Walden Ford was profiled in the May 2005 issue of School Reform News. That profile is available online at