Other Voices

Parents can show clout on school choice

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has vowed to pass school choice legislation this year.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has vowed to pass school choice legislation this year. AP

In America, communities both small and large can make a big difference, especially in our children’s education.

This idea is integral to the school choice movement, which is all about returning to families their rights to guide their own children’s education.

Self governance starts not with the state, but with families raising children the way they deem best.

When I was in Congress 20 years ago, I saw the power of nationwide grassroots action for school choice.

In 1994, the U.S. House considered legislation called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would have required homeschoolers and private schools to comply with onerous certification requirements for teachers.

It was an all-out rewrite of a law that had been in place since 1965, and it would have been devastating to those of us who want to ensure that our own values are a part of our children’s education.

In committee, I offered an amendment that would protect homeschoolers and private schools, but it was rejected.

So I reached out to the homeschool community to defend children whose parents wanted the freedom to choose that option. What happened next still amazes me to this day.

A letter went out to every member of Congress, explaining the threat to home schooling. An urgent alert then went out to tens of thousands of people outlining a plan to contact Congress and take the fight to where it would make a difference.

As a result, thousands of phone calls flooded the U.S. Capitol switchboard. Homeschoolers in districts throughout the country wanted their members to put a stop to this overhaul.

So overrun was then-Rules Committee Chairman Joseph Moakley that he allowed me to revise an amendment that was already on the floor but grossly outdated — one that would protect families’ choices to educate free of state intervention.

When it ultimately passed, it was due to the grassroots action of people willing to take a stand.

Witnessing the sheer power of democracy at work reinforced my belief that it was possible to expand parents’ freedom of choice in education and do away with an outdated one-size-fits-all approach.

This week is National School Choice Week. With more than 10,000 local events nationwide, grassroots parents, students, teachers and administrators will show their support for school choice.

This is a celebration of all forms of school choice — whether homeschooling, private schools, magnet schools or virtual learning.

This effort isn’t about politics, but about the very kinds of communities that make the American way of life possible.

These events are about normal people who are concerned about their children’s future and want to do something to protect it.

As you join with your family, friends and neighbors, realize that what we’re doing is securing the blessings of freedom for future generations.

As we’ve seen time and again throughout history, particularly in my own experience as a legislator, the people really can make a difference — they just need to rally around a common cause worth fighting for.

There is no better way to preserve our liberty, make education better and improve our economy for the long term than to provide more choices and options for millions of schoolchildren nationwide.

Dick Armey served as U.S. House majority leader from 1995-2003. He lives in Denton County.