I’ve met hundreds of families in the two decades that I’ve been fighting for educational opportunity for children and I have an insider’s look at the way school choice transforms lives — across economic, racial and religious divides.
A frustrating misconception that I face a lot is the idea that school choice options are only intended for lower income families. It is true that scholarship programs, like the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program that I helped fight to establish, benefit families that would have no other way to afford private schools for their children. It is also true that charter schools and magnet schools offer opportunities for children from the toughest neighborhoods to choose something other than their assigned public school. Yes, children from lower income families benefit from school choice options but the opportunities those children experience should not be quarantined to one segment of the population.
In a lot of cases, higher-income families have the means to create their own educational opportunities through paying tuition at private schools or living purposefully in high-performing public school districts. This is not to say that higher income families do not benefit from school choice — they most certainly do and for a variety of reasons including differences in individual learning styles of children — but the urgency is not always as high as a collective group.
In my opinion, the group that most desperately needs more school choice options, at this point in the fight, is middle class families.
Most working-class, middle-class families make enough income that they do not qualify for scholarships to private schools. The public schools in their neighborhoods may or may not be high performing, and even the ones that offer high academic ratings for students may not be the right fit for individual children. For middle-class families with charter or magnet school options, the chance at finding a better fit for their children is higher but still not as wide as if private schools were also an option.
Middle-class families are often so steeped in the everyday — from busy work schedules to family obligations — that settling for the status quo when it comes to school options is easier. In most cases, these middle-class children are not in dangerous schools or neighborhoods but since when were those the only criteria worth fighting to change for our children? Every child deserves the education that fits him or her the best. Period. And middle-class families are simply not seeing enough choices when it comes to how their children should learn.
Middle-class families are a group that needs more attention when options for school choice are discussed. It is a group that deserves better from policymakers and legislators. It is a group I am still fighting to help provide a voice for when it comes to improved educational opportunities for children. I hope that you will fight alongside me because every child, not just the poorest and richest among us, deserve the education designed for them.