At the Leadership Program of the Rockies 2021 Retreat Friday evening, attendees witnessed a remarkable reminder of the value and importance of school choice and educational opportunity. LPR’s annual Legacy Award was bestowed on Steve Schuck and his late wife, Joyce, for their many years of extraordinary advocacy and support for students in need through founding Parents Challenge.
Based in Colorado Springs, Parents Challenge is the only Colorado nonprofit that provides a full menu of financial support for parents’ school-choice options. These options range from private school tuition aid to help funding extracurricular activities and tutoring for public school students. They have helped countless kids — especially low-income and minority students — obtain a better education, rendering the Schucks genuinely deserving of recognition.
In February, I wrote about the “awakening” among parents and students as they’ve been “starting to realize the raw deal they’ve been getting with the current education systems.” The COVID-19 pandemic, I explained, has made this all too real for so many parents.
“Parents across Colorado have found themselves and their kids at the mercy of their school districts. Is the district open for in-person learning at your child’s grade level? The quality of your kid’s education likely depends on the answer. Unfortunately, the financial burdens of moving a child from public school are significant, so it’s hard for most parents to do. This also helps explain the racial imbalance: CDE says more white students left public schools (19,759) than any other racial or ethnic group.”
Students and parents should not be stuck at an immovable school or school district for their educational opportunity. They also shouldn’t be stuck in a school district where its board of education seems flatly unconcerned about its students’ well-being, comfort and safety.
I’m talking about districts like Denver Public Schools, where the feckless board has failed to treat the grave sexual assault allegations against member Tay Anderson with the seriousness they deserve. I wrote about these allegations and DPS’s independent investigation in last week’s column. Since then, I’ve spoken with 2021 DPS graduates who feel abandoned by their own school board.
One of those graduates, 18-year-old Gigi Gordon, joined me Saturday in studio on KNUS radio for two hours. She launched two online petitions last week, including one demanding DPS issue new diplomas without Anderson’s name on them. Gordon is fed up with the school board members for flunking Job #1.
“This is pretty low of the board,” she said. “It’s pretty much like saying that Tay Anderson is more important than these kids and their voice. It’s like saying that his reputation and his career and how this can impact him for the rest of his life is more important than the kids that could have possibly been abused by him. That could be scarred and never move on past this because they will never get justice because the board isn’t doing anything about it.”
“Why are they allowing this?” she pressed. “Why are they allowing this guy with all of these accusations to just continue to vote, and especially voting on the superintendent after all of this. I mean, that is just such a kick in the gut to everyone who’s trying to fight for justice.”
Anderson was elected to his position, so the only ways he can be removed are through resignation or recall. But Gordon made it clear who’s leading right now: “The students, the kids, not the board.” Effectively, Anderson’s colleagues have sided with him — and they cannot do so without being guilty of dereliction of duty to their students.
In his acceptance speech Friday, Steve Schuck explained the fundamental value of expanding school choice.
“While school choice is focused on making quality education available to all kids, not just those with means,” he said, “what inspired Joyce and me most was — and is — the entire concept of empowering the unempowered by taking power and control away from faceless, unaccountable and unresponsive bureaucrats, removing barriers that should never have existed in the first place.”
Schuck then offered a powerful call to arms.
“It is time to disempower the monopoly that lacks incentives to generate results, which it doesn’t,” he went on. “That lacks incentives to be truly student learning-focused, which it isn’t. And giving that power and control to parents — particularly those in low economic circumstances — to those who know what is best for their children.
The current school system, Schuck entreated the crowd of 700, “is totally insulated from competition, from market forces, from consequences. It is protected, for the most part, from its dissatisfied customers, especially those who lack the resources to choose other alternatives. Public schools have become employment centers for adults, not learning centers for students.”
Thanks to tragedies like COVID-19, school closures and “remote learning,” as well as inattentive and uncompassionate boards of education like DPS', the educational awakening is real.
It’s time that school districts, boards, administrators and unions start seeing what’s right before them. It’s time they expand school choice.