Virginia Walden Ford is one of America’s leading advocates for parent empowerment. As a student, a mother, an advocate, and a grandmother, Virginia has spent her lifetime fighting to create new educational opportunities for children and families.
A native of Little Rock, Arkansas and the daughter of two public school educators, Virginia and her twin sister, Harrietta, were among the first 130 students chosen to desegregate Little Rock’s high schools in the mid-1960s.
While she was raising her three children in Washington, D.C., Virginia was shocked that so many children were forced to attend failing, crumbling schools simply because they lived in the “wrong” ZIP codes. In fact, she worried that her own son, William, was falling through the cracks of a system that wasn’t focused on the best interests of children.
In 1998, she took action, forming a grassroots organization, D.C. Parents for School Choice. Along with a group of dedicated parents, Virginia went door-to-door, neighborhood-to-neighborhood, recruiting and training thousands of other parents to stand up for their children’s futures.
In 2003, with the support of national education organizations and lawmakers, Virginia and her courageous group of parent advocates succeeded in convincing Congress and President George W. Bush to enact the nation’s first-ever Opportunity Scholarship Program for low-income children, a program that set into motion a complete overhaul of Washington, D.C.’s education system.
This program provides scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, while boosting federal funding for traditional public schools and public charter schools. Since the program’s inception, thousands of students have received Opportunity Scholarships, and the program boasts a 91 percent high school graduation rate.
After the program’s passage, Virginia worked to encourage families to learn more about their school choice options, conducting information sessions across the city. Later, she played a key role in the Congressional reauthorization of the program.
After winning several awards for her advocacy efforts, Virginia shared her advice and experiences in her book, “Voices, Choices, and Second Chances.”
Today, Virginia lives, once again, in Little Rock, Arkansas. She travels the country speaking to parents and education groups, encouraging moms and dads and grandparents to discover the value of their voices and the importance of their advocacy.
Virginia is the proud mother of Michael Walden (and mother-in-law to Nikki Walden), of Miashia Walden Gaye, and of William Walden; she is the proud grandmother to Yamundow Virginia (age 12), Chloe (age 9), Jeremiah (age 7), and Genesis (age 2.5).