I know school choice. I also know that education can be the great equalizer in society for impoverished kids and their parents, as it is the traditional vehicle to upward mobility in America.
I’m from Milwaukee, where school choice started 28 years ago with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). That plan helped pave the way for the schools we’re celebrating across America during National School Choice Week.
You might even say that I was a fan of school choice before it was called “school choice.” I grew up in a lower-middle-class Milwaukee family. My parents lived frugally so they could afford to send all five of their kids to Catholic school. Instead of paying for new cars and costly vacations, they chose something that would last the rest of our lives: A solid education.
Every morning, my siblings and I would bundle up and make the five-block trek to St. Albert School—a simple brick building with an asphalt playground and a chain-link fence. It wasn’t a shiny new school with state-of-the-art technology. But it offered a great education—something my parents knew other schools could not.
Education opens kids’ minds. It teaches students the most important skill they need to achieve success in their careers: How to think for themselves.
My impoverished parents understood this. That’s why they poured what little money they had into providing me and my siblings with good classrooms. But they also knew that Milwaukee’s public schools would fail us. The Milwaukee Public School District is the largest in the state. It gets the most money, too: $1.1 billion in 2017 alone. And it is failing kids and parents.
It’s also been awarded with an “F” grade by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Only 18 percent of black students are proficient at reading. Their four-year graduation rate bumped along at 55 percent in 2016. These students aren’t prepared to meet basic educational standards, let alone a career and life in the real world. Thanks to bad schools, they’re functionally illiterate. So why do Milwaukee parents put up with schools that fail their kids?
The answer is simple: Most parents have no say in where their kids go to school.
School choice programs like the one St. Albert’s—now St. Catherine—in Milwaukee helped pioneer offer hope for poor families who struggle to give their kids a chance to escape the cycle of poverty they’re stuck in. They bring opportunity to families who can’t afford to move closer to good schools. And they empower parents across America to take an active role in their child’s future, with all the responsibility that entails.
That’s a responsibility most parents crave. According to the American Federation for Children, 68 percent of voters support school choice programs. They report that, between 2011 and 2016, enrollment in 15 state school choice programs grew by 100 percent.
In Louisiana, the state superintendent of education reported that more than 8,200 low-income students enrolled in nonpublic school choice programs — an increase of 300 percent. Minority families, in particular, are flocking to these programs as a way to level the playing field. In Louisiana’s school choice Scholarship Program, 89 percent of participants are minority students.
I know firsthand the tragedy of not educating kids. Bad schools have been called the pipeline to prison. If we want to lower incarceration rates, we don’t do it by artificially opening prison doors. We do it by educating kids and empowering parents.
Every inner-city kid deserves the chance at a great education that will help them the rest of their lives, like the one afforded me at St. Albert. Thanks to Milwaukee’s MPCP and the school choice programs in 28 other states and Washington, D.C., we’re helping to close that gap.
Sheriff David Clarke retired after serving over 14 years as sheriff of Milwaukee. He is now president of DAC Enterprises LLC.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.