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Portrait of black family with kids relax on couch
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The Bottom Line Why I Support Empowering Parents with School Choice

Growing up as the youngest child in a family of eight, we didn’t have a lot of money. My dad, God rest his soul, made a lot of sacrifices to not only provide for his family, but also to give us the education he wanted us to receive. My dad never graduated from high school, dropping out of school in his early teens to help support his family. Eventually, he obtained his GED, which opened more doors of opportunity for him.

Our family moved from California to Texas when I was one. Working as a tire technician at Firestone in Houston, Texas, my father soon realized he wasn’t making enough to support his family. Because of his GED, he was able to apply for a position at a petrochemical company in the Houston-area. My mom tutored him in math to help him pass the test required for a job as a pipefitter. My dad not only got the job, by the end of his career, he was a supervisor.

I grew up in a 1400 square foot house sharing a room with my three sisters. My two brothers also shared a room. One thing I remember vividly growing up is that my parents rarely bought things for themselves. They sacrificed a lot to put us through private, Catholic school to give us the kind of education they desired for their children.

Yes, my parents had a choice, of sorts, regarding where they would send us to school. But although they were paying taxes to help fund the Houston Independent School District, we were not using the public schools. Choosing schooling outside the public schools meant there would be an additional monetary burden on my family.

Here at Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education, we’re working to empower parents around the country with educational choice.

The argument for school choice has never been stronger than it is today.

Jennifer Burke

Despite some tuition assistance from the diocese, with six kids in school at the same time, my dad frequently worked overtime, double overtime, or even triple overtime. With every overtime shift my dad took, the amount of money he had to pay in taxes increased. When my parents celebrated their 20-year anniversary, we threw them a surprise party. Little did we know that my dad wouldn’t be able to stay for the entire celebration because he had already agreed to go to the refinery for an extra shift.

My parents never made us feel guilty for the sacrifices they made. They made their sacrifices out of love.

However, they didn’t have the real choices they should have had.

They couldn’t choose school vouchers that could have used their tax dollars to help support tuition at a private school.

They couldn’t choose education savings accounts (ESAs) — flexible scholarships parents can use to pay for a variety of educational expenses such as private school tuition, homeschool costs, dual enrollment, or future college expenses.

They couldn’t choose charter schools — publicly funded but independently operated schools, which were non-existent in our area at the time.

So, the choice my parents had was to either put their children in a school that did not meet their expectations for learning and safety, or essentially pay twice…both tax dollars to the public schools and tuition for our private school education.

Here at Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education (ACTE), we’re working to empower parents around the country with educational choice.

The argument for school choice has never been stronger than it is today.

If there is one positive thing that has come out of the past tumultuous 18 months, it is that parents around the country, from every ethnicity and socioeconomic background, are realizing the startling realities of what their children are being taught in school. Not only are neighborhood schools not equipping children with basic skills, they are instead indoctrinating our children with divisive ideology.

I echo the call-to-action by Dr. Keri Ingraham, my colleague who directs the ACTE. We have an unprecedented opportunity right now to give millions of families across America real choice in how their children are educated. It is time that we stand together for the sake of not only our children, but also the future of our nation.

On Tuesday, October 5th, you will have the opportunity to take a stand for parental education choice. Save the date. Set a reminder. Join the American Center for Transforming Education for our Special Day of Giving!

Jennifer Burke

Development and Communications Manager, Discovery Institute
Jennifer Burke is the Development and Communications Manager for Discovery Institute. She is a 1992 graduate of Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. In 2010, Jennifer emerged as a leader in the grassroots conservative movement. She was a regular guest on TV and conservative talk radio. Jennifer has a passion for advancing freedom, free market principles, and the fight for limited government. She believes fervently in empowering the individual to fight against victim mentality which absolves personal responsibility and leads to chaos and destruction in both society and the lives of individuals.
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The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?