My Educational Adventure into the School Choice Debate

Sometime in April, I was contacted by Josh Kaib from the Franklin Center.  I have to commend Josh in his persistence in trying to reach me. When we finally connected, I was thankful and honored that he offered me an all-expense paid scholarship to attend an Amplify School Choice Conference in Denver, Colorado from August 10 –12, and for the opportunity to learn more about school choice.  There were over 50 activists from all over the USA that attended the conference.  The purpose was that these activists would be encouraged to promote school choice in their state.  
‘Why School Choice Matters’ was the first lecture of the conference, presented by Josh.   I was astonished when he said that America spends more money on education than any other developed country.  And our students still underperform!  Josh said something that jarred my memory: “Zip code determines destiny.”  I have always been aware of school choice since all my siblings and I are products of school choice.  
It is odd how we take so much for granted.  I attended a Catholic kindergarten and graduated from a private Catholic high School in San Antonio, Texas.  My father insisted that we were going to receive the best education he could provide.  I might add we lived in a school district that did not have good reviews, which further drove my father to seek an alternate school choice for us.  So grateful that my father had the fortitude to realize we needed not only the basics in education but also spiritual nourishment. 
My father’s decision of so long ago has had a positive influence in our family.  All my siblings have been successful and 8 of the 10 grandchildren graduated from a university, a pediatrician and hospitalist going to third world countries to assist in medical care, an anesthesiologist, a nurse supervising an intensive care floor, a behavior specialist named the Teacher of the Year for his school, a computer engineer that has traveled faraway lands bringing technology to undeveloped countries , director of marketing and sales, two graphic designers, an insurance broker, and a manager in charge of system analysts. A quality education has got to be a must for America’s future. 
The Amplify School Choice conference not only gave me insight into how Colorado has managed to succeed in their application for school choice but an amazing knowledge of the people involved in the Colorado school choice process.  Republicans and Democrats united in a shared goal that the education and the future of the children in Colorado were foremost for success.  One of my favorite lectures came from Representative Angela Williams, a Democrat, because of her positive attitude.  Her willingness and determination to help students and parents makes her a very strong advocate for school choice.  The Republican was John Evans, Ph.D., J.D. from School Leaders for America, Inc.  He stated that Colorado is a purple state, not a Red/Blue state, and this issue is for our future; it is not a Republican or Democrat issue.  This was remarkable to hear. 
If I don’t include short stories about some of the attendees, I would be denying some great anecdotes about the amazing activists I had the pleasure in meeting.  Will Franklin from Austin, Texas was the only one I knew.  I met him in Iowa in 2012 when I volunteered to campaign for former Texas Governor Rick Perry in his bid for the presidency.   Will was at the conference videotaping the speakers and events.  Not all of Will’s clients are political but I found it interesting that we will both be working with Wayne Christian in his effort to become the Rail Road Commissioner of Texas.  He spoke about his two small children Liam 3 and Lars 1 1/2 and the fact that Liam is attending a school where he is learning to speak Spanish.  I think this is a great idea, since I failed to teach my sons the most common language spoken in Texas besides English.  You can find Will’s website here.   
The most fascinating character was Peter Ingemi from Massachusetts.  He seemed to be everywhere interviewing all the activists and speakers.  He interviewed me the first night right after the Welcome party. He didn’t tell me he was videotaping my interview for YouTube.  Oh well, I was tired and really that is the real me.  His openness was refreshing since so many people are not able to be themselves and are a bit pretentious.   It was easy to like Peter as he let me know he was a Catholic and invited me to daily mass with him at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception which is located near our hotel.  What a friend to have to keep you close to God.  His website can be found here, and he also has a YouTube channel. 
Dan Cirucci from New Jersey was exciting because of his Texas connection.  He said he worked as a public relations liaison to the state bar in his state and that Governor Perry invited him to Texas to help with the public relations of the different city bar associations.  The Dallas, Houston, and even the San Antonio bar used his services.   After he completed his work, Governor Perry presented him with a Texas flag that had been flown over the Texas Capitol.   He praised our former governor and the lawyer’s he had met.  His musings can be found here.
It’s hard to tell why we are attracted to certain people, maybe it’s how they carry themselves or what they say or maybe it’s their smile like Faye Anderson’s from Philadelphia.  She was always smiling and busy with other attendees.   She seems to have a true heart in helping Philadelphians find their American dream.  Something I learned from reading her blog is that she is an Arts advocate....another connection.  You can read her thoughts here.
I met Marjorie Haun towards the end of the conference and such a treasure she is.  She lives in Grand Junction, Colorado and has an impressive blog.  Most of her work is in property rights.  She mentioned the Cliven Bundy case and in her opinion he does not deserve to be imprisoned.   She also remarked how lucky we are in Texas to have Governor Greg Abbott and strong property rights. 
Heather Hays is the senior education reporter from Watchdog which is a project of the Franklin Center for government and public integrity.  She was one of the panelists at the conference and focuses on school choice and is not afraid to go after the perceived villains.  Here is her article on Denver’s school choice.
Texas has a ways to go to pass school choice and I will be writing about this very critical issue in future articles.  School Choice is not a Republican or a Democrat issue because students do deserve an education to live out their America Dream.  Texas lawmakers did not pass school choice this last legislative session even though School Choice is in our Texas Party Platform and now advocates will have to wait until 2017.  
Texas Party Platform
We believe that all children should have access to quality education. We support the right to choose public, private, charter, or home education. We support the distribution of educational funds in a manner that they follow the student to any school, whether public, private, charter, or home school through means of tax exemptions and/or credits.
Voices at Amplify School Choice Denver
Sonja Harris 
Fight and Never Ever Give Up!

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