Children are at the forefront of civil rights fights, including school choice

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This week is National School Choice Week, an opportunity to celebrate educational choice in all forms and the positive impact choice has had on so many children. Throughout this week, thousands of kids who benefit from a variety of choice programs will be attending rallies all over America.

These children continue to fight for more educational choice options, including opportunity scholarships, charter schools, traditional public schools, and digital learning. Unfortunately, far too many adults are standing on the sidelines while our children are standing up to the educational status quo. But, as history has shown, often children are the best advocates for change.

During the spring of 1963, the Civil Rights Movement was at an impasse. The Kennedy Administration’s civil rights bill was losing steam and activists like Dr. Martin Luther King were searching for a way to bring momentum to the movement. They traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, a city notorious for its segregationist practices, but were surprised to find little interest in participating in a march. Public Safety Commissioner Bull Conner had an iron grip on the city, leaving supporters afraid to speak out. With some hesitation, leaders decided to hold marches in the city although they were apprehensive that anyone would join them.

Then, something amazing happened.

Young black Birmingham children responded and skipped school to join Dr. King in his march for freedom. When police heard of their plan they nailed the doors and windows of schools shut to keep the kids from marching. However, the children burst through the barriers to attend.

Bull Conner arrested countless children, crowding them into cells, as many as 75 kids in cells made for 8 people. But that did not stop them. On the second day, even more marched. Conner brought out the dogs and fire hoses and Americans then saw brutal discrimination, leaving our nation changed for the better.

Just like at those famous marches in Birmingham, children continue to take a stand today.

Tyrell is a 12 year old student who received an opportunity scholarship to attend a private school in Louisiana after spending many years attending a failing public school. I met Tyrell at the courthouse in Baton Rouge after the teachers union filed a lawsuit to kill the program that he benefited so greatly from. Tyrell told me that when he found out about the lawsuit, he begged his mother to let him skip school to go to the courthouse. He wanted to tell the judge how much that scholarship meant to him and his family and even if he could not speak, hoped the judge might be able to catch a glimpse of him.

A child continues to lead the way.

The educational choice community must join these children to fight for the right to choose their education. We are facing an educational crisis in our country. The achievement gap between kids of color and their white counterparts has grown, just like the gap between poor kids and kids from families of means. Educational choice has the power to close these gaps that are so prevalent in society.

Access to a quality education has truly become the major civil rights issue of today. All children, regardless of color or socioeconomic status, should not lose out on their right to a decent education.

Educational choice has been shown to help equalize education outcomes in our country and it is our duty to stand with our children to give them the opportunity to access quality educational options.