How do we give our kids a better education than we've been giving them? It's a question that is leading to a rare bipartisan conversation these days with some big figures in the Democratic party, like Cory Booker in Newark, Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles and Andrew Cuomo in New York, actually leading the discussion. And they're not alone in the Democratic party as I saw this past week in New Orleans and Denver.
What's going on here?
The tough reality we've got to face is that too many of our schools are failing. And if you have a kid in one of those schools, you can bet that you're going to be pretty upset that your kid isn't getting the skills they need to live a successful life. That's where this conversation begins -- with the parents of kids in those schools who demand a better education for their child.
More people are also getting involved. After all, there are serious consequences when a kid doesn't succeed in school, both for themselves and the community they live in. If a kid gets through high school without being able to master basic math, science and reading, that kid is going to have difficulty finding a job. And good luck finding a business that will locate in a community that doesn't have workers with those skills. So you're starting to see a lot of businesses get involved in this conversation as well.
The great thing about this discussion is that there's not going to be just a one size fits all fix. That model isn't working. So there's room for everyone to participate and put every idea on the table. Even if you think public schools are great, can't we improve them? The solutions may vary by town, city and state.
Many communities have decided that the key is to empower parents to choose the best school for their child rather than that child being forced to attend the nearest public school no matter how low academic achievement at that school is or how bad of a fit it is for that child. If a solution is going to work for a child, their parent has to have the power to choose that solution. That's why instead of arguing over or promoting a particular fix, last week people across the political spectrum came together during to promote giving parents more choice in choosing what works best for their child during National School Choice Week.
Last Saturday, National School Choice Week kicked-off in New Orleans with a huge rally. James Carville, who spoke at the event, was so proud of the progress schools have made in that great city since Katrina. "You can't have the kind of successes that we're seeing here, the kind of improvements we're seeing in our schools, without people taking some considerable risk," he said.
New Orleans was forced to dramatically rebuild their school system following Katrina, which destroyed many public school buildings. Today about 80% of students in New Orleans attend a charter school. Rising test scores and graduation rates at these schools confirm what's possible in education in this country if we're willing to come together and do what's best for the kids.
In Denver, I went to another National School Choice Week event sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform. What's happening in Colorado is pretty amazing. The Democratic establishment - from the guys in office to the state's teacher's union - are fully behind the new school choice program in Denver's public schools. The Governor, John Hickenlooper, Lt. Governor, Joe Garcia, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, U.S Congressman Jared Polis, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, State Senator Mike Johnston don't just support school choice - they are driving the issue. And they're all Democrats.
National School Choice Week wrapped up on Saturday with over 400 events attended by tens of thousands of people and 28 governors -- including Hickenlooper and Martin O'Malley in Maryland -- declared January 22-28 as School Choice Week in their states to mark the growing bi-partisan discussion about how to improve the status quo and provide more choice for parents and students.
If we can't come together and put politics and ideology aside to focus on the future of our kids, is there any issue where true bi-partisanship can emerge?
Note: I believe in empowering parents and worked to help build a bipartisan National School Choice Week.