From Educate Nebraska to AFC

My path to school choice advocacy started about seven years ago. Having lived in New Orleans and D.C., school choice wasn’t a wholly foreign concept to me. But it was foreign in Nebraska, where I returned in 2011 to work for a non-profit program serving low-income children in underperforming schools.

Through a series of unexpected events, I wound up as a staffer in the Nebraska Legislature. I quickly realized that a seemingly sensible  issue — letting families, especially poor and low-income families, access the schools that work best for their children — was as divisive as it was necessary.

For years, I’d worked closely with children whose only option was to attend a zoned school, so I was acutely aware that Nebraska schools weren’t serving all kids well. And I knew firsthand the transformation possible for a child when school settings changed in his favor, as well as the dire consequences when schools failed to educate kids.

So, in 2015, I worked to launch Educate Nebraska, the state’s first and only organization committed to promoting system-wide K-12 reform. To this day, Nebraska remains one of only four states without school choice, private or charter. While changing this reality was part of our original mission, we also focused on bringing broader reforms to the existing system.

Over the next two years, we worked to strengthen coalitions and were involved with ten legislative bills. We connected with organizations and individuals across the country working towards similar goals. And we watched as the national conversation around education policy — and education reformers — shifted.

Combined with the work we were doing in Nebraska, and a state department of education that fought accountability at every turn, it became clear that the most effective way to create and sustain meaningful change in the education system is to empower families with school options. Because, as it turned out, many who’d been entrusted to implement school policy meant to transform the traditional system didn’t believe schools were what mattered very much, particularly when a family was poor.

The climate and landscape for school choice has shifted considerably in Nebraska since 2011. Several who believe in the need for change ascended to positions where they have the ability to enact it, from the Governor’s office to the Legislature. And the grassroots coalition continues to grow. I’m proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish, though it’s not come quickly enough and there is — and will always be — much more to do.

Shortly after becoming involved with reform efforts in Nebraska, I connected with American Federation for Children (AFC). AFC helped Educate Nebraska bring key change makers to the state to testify at hearings, speak to policymakers, and participate in community educational events. A member of the AFC staff provided invaluable and ongoing advice, from every aspect of advocacy to how to craft high quality legislation. So, when an opportunity arose to join American Federation for Children, I knew I would become part of a team with a solid record of working to empower families and a reputation for expanding opportunity for kids.

Our country’s future rests on the quality of education children receive. Yet, for too many families, the power needed to access quality is stacked against them. That’s why I believe so strongly in AFC’s mission. It’s a privilege to become part of an organization working every day to expand educational opportunity and remove barriers that prevent every child from reaching their full potential.