For everyday Americans, Hillary Clinton should embrace school choice

by Kevin P. Chavous

Sen. Hillary Clinton 2007 denoise
Hillary Clinton
When Hillary Clinton announced her presidential candidacy in an online video Sunday, I along with many education advocates were saddened by one of the families featured in her announcement.

At the :17 second mark of the video, a mother is featured discussing how her family is moving so her daughter, who is starting Kindergarten in the fall, can attend a quality school. While thought to be an uplifting story, this family’s predicament is something that millions of families across the country face. This family is fortunate enough to be able to move to a better school district; however, many families, especially low-income families, are trapped in their current schools that do not work for their children with no alternatives in sight.

The reality is if Hillary supported school choice, this family would not have to pack all of their belongings and uproot their lives to ensure their child receives a great education. They would be able to attend the school of their choice without making a drastic move or placing more strain on their budget. They would be empowered with the ability to make education decisions for their child without being restricted solely by their ZIP code.

Featuring this family in her candidacy announcement highlights the problems with education in our country and the need for immediate reform and results. The fact is, we’re losing kids. Every 26 seconds a student drops out of school in this country, the majority of these students being minorities. If more options were offered, these students would have the opportunity to attend a quality school and place more of an emphasis on their education. I’ve seen this problem firsthand in the District of Columbia where the public school graduation rate is less than 60 percent, but I have also seen one amazing solution – school choice.

By embracing choice, we have seen students succeed and have given options to families who were desperately seeking alternatives to their failing neighborhood school. For instance in D.C., 90 percent of participants in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program graduate – 30 percentage points more than their counterparts in traditional public school. These students were given a lifeline and were able to attend a quality school unlike so many students across the country. All of the participants in the program are low-income, so they cannot pick up and move to receive a better education, but school choice has given them the chance to beat the odds and succeed with a quality education.

This is a sweeping issue that’s bringing together Republicans and Democrats, uniting them for one cause: to give children access to a quality education. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo championed a private school choice bill that would have allowed for businesses to make tax deductible donations to pay for private school scholarships.

As a fellow Democrat I challenge Hillary Clinton to embrace educational choice, to become a champion for every day Americans who are less fortunate and lack the resources to uproot their family and move. Because, in the America I believe in, no family should face the decision to have to move in order to give their child the opportunities afforded by a quality education.

Kevin P. Chavous is executive counsel and a founding board member for the American Federation for Children. He is a former member of the Council of the District of Columbia and a former chairman of D.C.’s Education Committee. Chavous was responsible for enacting numerous education reforms in D.C. Chavous is chair emeritus of the Democrats for Education Reform and a former chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

Photo credit: SEIU (Flickr).