Former school choice scholarship student tells success story in WSJ

redefinED staff
Denisha Merriweather

Denisha Merriweather

Switching to a different school didn’t just make dreams come true, “it allowed me to have dreams I didn’t know I could have,” writes a former school choice scholarship student in an op-ed published today in the Wall Street Journal.

Denisha Merriweather of Jacksonville, Fla., says by fourth grade, she disliked school so much she thought she’d eventually drop out. But at the urging of her godmother, and help from a tax credit scholarship for low-income students, she enrolled in a private school, graduated with honors and became the first member of her family to attend college. A few months ago, she earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social science and is now headed to graduate school.

“This didn’t happen by chance, or by hard work alone,” she writes. “It happened because I was given an opportunity.”

Merriweather’s piece notes the lawsuit that the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other groups filed Aug. 28 to end the 13-year-old scholarship program, which is administered by non-profits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The program serves nearly 70,000 students this fall, more than two thirds of them black or Hispanic.

Merriweather is also featured in a new TV ad, paid for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which encourages the teachers union and school boards association to drop the lawsuit. In the Wall Street Journal, she said she hopes people who care about disadvantaged children pause to hear stories like hers. Read the full op-ed on the Wall Street Journal here.

14.10.23 Denisha WSJ


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Joseph Durham April 17, 2015 - 4:04 pm

I wish Denisha Merriweather all the best in her academic studies. I also hope that she never forgets it was a Republican Idea that got her on the right track. Good luck Denisha Merriweather!

Ron Matus April 18, 2015 - 7:24 am

Hi Joseph, thanks so much for the comment. All of us in the parental school choice movement are deeply grateful to the many Republicans who have strongly and consistently supported choice over the years, and you are right to note that students like Denisha are benefitting. But I do want to add that folks all along the political spectrum support choice for all kinds of compelling reasons, that growing numbers of Democrats are coming around, and that choice also has deep roots on the political left (the paper cited in this redefinED post is a good primer: I think many folks who consider themselves liberals or progressives might be more open-minded about choice if they knew this. They could then judge choice on its merits rather than on the misperceptions too often perpetuated by critics and the media.

Joseph Durham April 18, 2015 - 10:50 am

Hi Ron, today’s Democratic party is totally different from the Democratic party of John F. Kennedy and prior. Kennedy himself was a Conservative and believed in many of today’s top Conservative issues. But shortly after Jimmy Carter founded the Department of Education, the Nation’s Democratic Party has been leaning further left with each successive Presidential run. Most Democrats don’t even remember it was a Democratic idea of lowering taxes on the rich to create a trickle down effect. John Kennedy used this idea to maximum effect. So, yes. The school of choice is a Democratic idea. But one very few Democrats would hold to now.

Ron Matus
Ron Matus April 18, 2015 - 12:01 pm

Hi Joseph, I’ve been watching education in Florida as close as I can for more than a decade now – first as a journalist and then more recently here at Step Up For Students – and I must confess I am increasingly confused as to what “conservative” and “liberal” means when it comes to education. I do see more and more Democrats embracing parental school choice, whether it’s at the grassroots level, where more and more parents are voting with their feet in favor of all kinds of choice options, or at the politician level. I think it’s significant, for example, that Presidents Clinton and Obama are strong supporters of charter schools. They haven’t come around yet on vouchers and tax credit scholarships, but they have evolved on choice, and I think other Democrats will continue to do likewise as their constituents continue to demand and embrace more options. I also think it’s worth noting that in 2010, nearly half the Democrats in the Florida Legislature voted in favor of a major expansion of the tax credit scholarship program here, which is now the largest private school choice program in the country, and in 2012, a significant number of Democratic lawmakers in Louisiana voted to create the voucher program in that state. I wish more Democrats would come around quicker, but there is progress and better late than never.

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