School choice goes beyond partisanship

Tampa businessman John Kirtley almost single-handedly created Florida’s corporate tax credit scholarship program for low-income children, a program he now runs. He’s known nationally for his efforts on behalf of school choice, a subject that landed him on Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s education transition team. We’re trying to get our local members of the team to talk about the education issues that matter to them as they advise Scott. Last week Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia spoke with the Gradebook, and this week Kirtley submitted this essay.  
For far too long, the important debate over whether we should provide private learning options for low-income schoolchildren has been a source of friction in education circles and partisan combat in political quarters. But when Oprah Winfrey spotlights the desperate needs of these children and some of the private schools that are turning around their lives, we can safely conclude this issue is now mainstream.
The impetus for Oprah’s involvement has been the documentary film, Waiting for Superman, which illustrates how some disadvantaged children in urban communities in New York, Washington and Los Angeles have found new hope in charter schools that are focusing specifically on their needs. What often gets missed in the talk over whether the film’s message is anti-public education, though, is the lineup of people who are advancing the cause.
The director himself, Davis Guggenheim, is a self-professed liberal who gained fame for his work with Al Gore in the global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. In his film and on the public tour that has surrounded it, we have seen education philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Grammy-winner John Legend, U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan, and parents of all different races, ethnicity and politics who were reduced to tears at an MSNBC-sponsored screening.
This is becoming the new face of a movement to put all our educational tools on the table for underprivileged students, and Florida is a prime example.
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