Gov. Jeb Bush offered the opening address at his foundation’s annual education conference last week. But the former school choice student who introduced him may have stolen the show.
Denisha Merriweather has been doing that a lot in recent months.
Since May, the former tax credit scholarship student and now college grad from Jacksonville, Fla., has been featured in a video for the American Federation for Children; been spotlighted in another video that ran on TV during breaks in Florida’s gubernatorial debates; penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal; and sat down for interviews with local press in Jacksonville. Each time, she moved a debate too often stuck on myths and abstraction on to concrete ground: Her life.
Don’t let school districts and teachers unions kill the scholarship program, she told attendees at the Bush conference. (The program is administered by nonprofits such as Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) Don’t let them throw nearly 70,000 scholarship recipients out of schools that are working for them.
“You can’t see them but you can see me,” Merriweather said. “And so you can see what is possible when you give a kid a chance at a quality education.”
Here are her remarks in full.
Good morning. My name is Denisha Merriweather.
This year I graduated from the University of West Florida with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social sciences.
I specialized in children and society, which led me to work in a Dominican Republic orphanage over the summer.
And there I learned how truly blessed we are to live in America.
Next year I will enter the University of South Florida’s joint master’s program in social work and public health.
After that I will let passion and opportunity be my guide.
Maybe instead of just being the first member of my family to have a college degree, I’ll be the first to have the title Doctor in front of her name.
You would hardly have guessed such an outcome from my childhood.
I was born into poverty in Jacksonville, Florida.
My life was disrupted by constant moves.
I was held back twice in school and felt out of place in classrooms with kids two years younger.
I was disruptive and often got into physical fights with the other kids.
I was failing in school because I hated school.
All too well, I could see my future.
I would drop out and spend the rest of my life trying to make ends meet.
But that didn’t happen because of something my godmother discovered called the Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
It provided tuition for me to attend the Esprit de Corps Center for Learning.
That changed everything. Continue Reading →