Continuing Dr. King’s Legacy Through School Choice and Equal Opportunity Education

Kevin P. Chavous
Each year that I have an opportunity to join the nation in celebrating and recognizing the life, work, and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am thankful.
This year, in addition to my gratitude, I have a heightened sense of hope and determination, two pillars that are a significant part of Dr. King’s legacy.
Dr. King fought to ensure that every American had equal opportunity in their lives. Because of his determination, many, myself included, experience lives of freedom and “the pursuit of happiness.”
But not all of us are experiencing the fruits of his sacrifice.
In public schools across the country, children are being let down and disappointed by a system that was supposed to educate and uplift them. The National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP results tell us that only 26% of 12th graders are proficient in math, 38% of 12th graders are proficient in reading; and only 42% of 12th graders are proficient in economics. In other words, students are graduating from school unprepared for college and worse yet, ill-equipped to take on the challenges of life.
This is only if they make it to graduation. Students across the country are dropping out of school less than every minute, literally.
For many, there is no way out. They are being forced to continue moving through a system that is not only failing, but is also failing them.
Thankfully, these children, who mostly live in poverty and many of whom are black or Latino, have a team of people spread across the country who wake up every single day and work to make sure that they are given the right to receive a quality education.
Where equality for all was Dr. King’s legacy, equal opportunity education is my calling, my life’s work. The lack of equal opportunity in education is the civil rights issue that shouldn’t be but, in 2017, is a reality for thousands of children.
For what may be more than half of my life, I have been part of the fight to both reform and transform the way in which children across this country are educated. I, and many of my fellow advocates, believe that school choice, which gives parents what I believe to be their God-given right to choose where their child goes to school regardless of their ZIP code or income, is the answer.
For the more than 400,000 students enrolled in private school choice programs and 2 million students in public charters school nationwide, it has been the answer.
In Florida, Louisiana, Milwaukee, and D.C., parents are getting to choose the school that they believe will be the most effective in their child’s learning. Their decisions are being supported through scholarships, vouchers, education savings accounts and the availability of public charter schools.
Although we have made great strides, our work is not done. There are still far too many children who are stuck in classrooms and schools that just aren’t working for them. But as we fight for their fundamental right to a quality education, there are groups fighting against our efforts.
The winds are changing, and they’re changing in favor of children across the country who have been denied a quality education because where they live and the income of their parents do not meet the unspoken rules for receiving an education that will provide for a rich and fulfilling life.
I invite you to join me and thousands of others as we follow in the legacy of Dr. King by ensuring that the least among us are not left to fend for themselves but are given the tools needed to create the lives they desire. I believe that this starts with a quality education and school choice.
Kevin P. Chavous is the founding board member of the American Federation for Children. As a former DC City Council member, Chavous served as chair of the education committee and ushered in numerous impactful education reforms.


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