Have you heard the one about the priest, the rabbi and the Baptist minister who went to a political rally? This one’s no joke.
To understand what was special about Thursday’s school-choice rally at the state Capitol, you didn’t have to hear what was said or feel the freezing temperatures which more than 100 attendees braved.
You had to look at the crowd, which didn’t look at all like what the machinery of the education status quo would have you believe. It was a crowd that was multiracial, multi-ethnic and multi-faith.
The minorities present were not token representatives. They were a reflection of the fact that school choice — including charter schools and vouchers — is an issue that concerns all Georgians, not just a privileged few.
So much so that, in imploring the crowd to remain persistent, Rich Thompson, a Southwest Atlanta parent and school-choice advocate, chose to cite a dictum from the abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
So much so that when Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers described school choice as “the moral calling of our time” and compared it to the civil rights movement, no one in the crowd blinked.
School choice brings together blacks and whites, the rich and the poor, Catholics and Protestants and Jews and the unaffiliated, even Republicans and Democrats. That fact is one of the least remarked attributes of the cause.
Here’s another: Despite the urgency of improving education for Georgia’s children, and the radicalism of which they’re accused, school-choice supporters have been awfully willing to accept incrementalism.
Shaking up an old and ineffective system, an apt description for much of public education in Georgia, does require some radicalism. We need to do something radically different if we’re to achieve radical improvement.
Still, patience has been the practice.
First came vouchers for children with special needs. Those kids now can spend the state tax dollars allocated for their education at the school of their choice. (Note that this option includes other traditional public schools as well as charters and private schools.)
Now, Rogers proposes vouchers for Georgia’s 15,000 foster kids and tens of thousands of children in military families.
Combine this incremental approach to vouchers with the tendency of charter schools to spring up in areas where students can’t afford other options, and it’s clear that school-choice supporters are keeping their word about first serving those with the greatest needs.
It’s a good-faith effort to earn the public’s trust little by little. Compare that to the “comprehensive” overhaul of health care and restriction of carbon emissions — whether you like them or not — favored by the left.
Amid the patience, however, Thompson reminds us that thousands of kids’ futures are at stake.
“I understand the rationale for incremental progress,” he told me after the rally. “But my daughter will only be in the fifth grade one time. So I don’t have the time or the patience for gradually fixing the [Atlanta] middle school system.”
All the more reason for school-choice advocates to take heart from their achievements so far, but also to view them as motivation to keep going.