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In our third episode of Giving Ventures, host and DonorsTrust Vice President Peter Lipsett talks about school choice with three experts in education policy: Tommy Schultz, chief executive officer of the American Federation for Children; Nicki Neily, president of Parents Defending Education; and Garrett Ballengee, executive director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.

The pandemic served as a wake-up call to busy parents who weren’t previously privy to their children’s day-to-day education. Lockdown gave parents and guardians a front-row seat to their children’s schooling, and they saw what educators are—and aren’t—teaching their children.

As Peter says, “The lessons now are streamed—or at least during lockdown—were streamed straight into our living room, and a lot of parents were concerned about what they saw.”

Parents Step Up

Because of the extra attention paid to classroom instruction, and many parents’ displeasure with school systems nationwide, there is a groundswell of support for freedom in education. Majorities of parents and guardians across political divides support school choice. In fact, in less than a year, the support for school choice among public-school parents grew by a double-digit margin.

Mr. Schultz says, referring to polling done by AFC showing support for school choice, “The biggest jump overall in the entire poll was from K-12 public-school parents. They went from 67 percent supporting school choice to now 80 percent supporting school choice,” he said. “This is just an unbelievable moment in time for us.”

Empowering Parents & Funding Students

Likewise, Ms. Neily is seeing more parents actively demanding better for their children. With Parents Defending Education, she is empowering parents and teaching them how to effectively engage with school boards to create positive change.

“For me, the first step is just letting parents know what their rights are,” she says. “Let’s tell people what they need to know, how to get smart quickly and then, from there, let’s teach them how to engage.”

Ms. Neily coaches parents who run into problems with their school district and who desire alternative educational options for their children. Mr. Ballengee goes a step further and works to create options for parents who want to tailor their children’s education when schools are inflexible.

“Our main goal right now is to make sure that the Hope Scholarship works—to make sure that it’s family friendly, to make sure that those quarter of a million kids in West Virginia—making sure their families are aware of the Hope Scholarship,” says Mr. Ballengee.

The Hope Scholarship is an educational savings plan enacted by the West Virginia legislature. The plans are state-funded debit accounts that can be used pay for a student’s private school, home school, classes at a local community college and exist thanks to the Cardinal Institute and other coalition partners who advocated for the program.

Indeed, the savings plans were the result of persistent advocacy. “It’s the culmination of about five or six years of really hard work,” he says. “There are no income restrictions. There are no geographic restrictions. There are no special-needs restrictions or anything of that sort. So, it really is the most expansive and inclusive school-choice policy of its kind.

Listen In Regularly

Are you, like us, inspired by the work these leaders and their teams are doing? If so, let us know. This episode is sure to help you think through potential philanthropic partnerships. We hope it also gives a window into ways your philanthropy is creating opportunity for everyone. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and visit us at www.donorstrust.org/podcast to stream the podcast.

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