Archive | Podcast

Expanding options for military families – Sen. Tim Scott, podcastED

Sen. Tim Scott

Sen. Tim Scott has seen how hard it can be for military families to find educational opportunities for their children as they move from one base to another.

His older brother was a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army. His younger brother is a colonel in the Air Force.

Their experiences trying to find schools for their children helped inspire the CHOICE Act. Scott’s legislation would create pilot scholarship programs on at least five military bases.

“I know firsthand that a parent doesn’t choose the base they go to, and therefore, can only hope and pray that the education is good,” the South Carolina Republican tells Denisha Merriweather, a Florida tax credit scholarship alumna, in our latest podcast interview.

April is the month of the military child, and several states are advancing proposals to create new educational options for military families — or help existing school choice programs better meet their needs.

Georgia lawmakers approved a bill creating open enrollment for families on military bases, while Florida is advancing legislation that would allow military parents to apply for tax credit scholarships year-round. Continue Reading →

Improving public education, by choice: Darryl Rouson, podcastED


Florida State Sen. Darryl Rouson went to Catholic schools from first grade through college. He wants low-income families from his district to have the same opportunity. He’s sent his own children to public schools, so he wants Florida’s public school system to be as strong as possible.

During a podcast interview with Denisha Merriweather, a Florida school choice alum now studying to become a social worker, Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, explains how his life experience has informed his view that supporting school choice and supporting public education are not in conflict.

“I want a high-quality, fully funded public education, but at the same time, I do not believe that one size fits all,” he says.

Rouson joined the Senate after a narrow win in a hard-fought Democratic primary. Education issues figured prominently in the race. His district encompasses the segregated neighborhoods of South St. Petersburg, an area whose academic struggles were chronicled in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by the Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Two generations of school choice advocates: Virginia Walden Ford, podcastED

virginia-walden-fordTwo of Virginia Walden Ford’s children went to public schools and thrived. They had access to mentoring programs and classes that nurtured their talents. But it was the experience of her youngest child, William, that led her to become a school choice advocate.

In middle school, he started to show signs of academic struggles. At the same time, drugs and gang activity were on the rise in the family’s working-class neighborhood in the nation’s capital.

“I always said I would never lose my kids … to the streets, but I knew that if I didn’t do something, then the possibility that this child would not succeed was right staring me in the face,” Ford says.

She found a private scholarship that allowed him to enroll at Archbishop Carroll High School, where he started doing better “almost immediately.” He told his mother that, for the first time, he felt surrounded by adults who cared about his education almost as much as she did.

“That was my first time realizing that if a child is an environment that meets his needs, then he will thrive and he will excel,” Ford says.

That’s the kind of turnaround story Denisha Merriweather can relate to. She changed her own academic trajectory after enrolling in a private school with the help of a Florida tax credit scholarship. On the latest edition of our podcast, she talks with Ford about using her own experience to advocate for educational options in the political arena.

Continue Reading →

Catholic schools belong in the ed reform conversation – Jill Kafka, podcastED

Kafka with studentOver the summer, a group of Catholic schools in Harlem and the Bronx posted some attention-grabbing results.

Their students took the same tests as children in New York’s charter and traditional public schools. State data showed that, on average, all types of schools improved. But the Partnership Schools improved faster.

For the second-straight year, the results of this experiment in urban Catholic education lent credence to the idea that— like a few related efforts elsewhere in the country — it belongs in the larger effort to improve urban school systems, particularly for disadvantaged students.

“We really can be a proof point,” Jill Kafka, the executive director of the Partnership for Inner-City Education, says in the latest edition of our podcast.

“I think what we’re able to prove and show is that Catholic schools can be an excellent choice for parents in these neighborhoods,” she says. In addition to traditional and charter public schools, “we end up being the third leg of the stool. We can bring the excellence to the point where we are part of the education reform conversation.”

The six schools are looking to turn the tide in a city beset by enrollment declines and Catholic school closures that hurt surrounding communities. Continue Reading →

The school choice agenda in Congress – Rep. Luke Messer, podcastED



Congressman Luke Messer has been telling his fellow Republicans they can’t just be against the federal government’s role in education policy. They also need to fight for something.

That’s one reason Messer, R-Indiana, helped launch the Congressional School Choice Caucus.

And he recently joined Denisha Merriweather, a Florida tax credit scholarship alum, for a podcast interview, in which he describes an agenda that could advance the cause on Capitol Hill.

He is sponsoring the Enhancing Educational Opportunities for all Students Act. The legislation would give states the option to allow federal Title I dollars to follow low-income students directly to whatever school they attend.

The bill would also extend two federal college savings programs to the K-12 level — a change Messer says might help middle-class families cover the cost of private school tuition.

The goal, he said, is to “help a cross-section of families” pay for schooling options that would otherwise be out of reach.

“We already have school choice in America for families who can afford it,” he says. “If you can afford to move, or afford to pay for a private school on your own, you have those options. The only real question is: What are we going to do for everyone else?” Continue Reading →

‘This is about kids. This is not about politics.’ – John Schilling, podcastED

Many of the people pushing for more private school choice options around the country have two goals.

They want to make scholarships available to a broad range of students, including those in the middle class who don’t have access to the same choices as wealthy families. At the same time, they want to make sure school choice programs prioritize the needs of the most disadvantaged children.

Schilling portrait


In our latest podcast interview with Florida tax credit scholarship alumna Denisha Merriweather, John Schilling says that if the school choice movement does things right, it can achieve both at the same time.

“It’s definitely better to have broader eligibility because you want more kids to be able to participate in these programs,” he says. At the same time, “our primary focus is, we want to make sure that low-income families are always first in line.”

Both of those goals make sense in principle, and Schilling says they also make sense politically. The school choice movement needs a broad, politically potent base of support among scholarship parents. And since it wants to win allies from both major political parties, it needs to be able to make credible appeals to social justice.

“We want to make sure that these programs are going to survive the push and pull of election cycles,” he says. “So in order to do that, you really have to have bipartisan support.” Continue Reading →

Empower teachers to empower students – Gerard Robinson, podcastED



Over the past few weeks, the NAACP has faced constant pushback from education reformers and school choice advocates for its proposed stance against charter schools. Some of that pushback has come from Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who recently wrote a series of blog posts unpacking the proposal

However, on our latest podcast, he says it’s important to remember where the civil rights organization is coming from. The organization’s advocacy forced many public schools to integrate for the first time, he says, and helped pave the way for him to become a state education chief in Virginia and then in Florida.

“When they say they want to make sure that public schools are open to all kids, they’re speaking from a standpoint of knowing it wasn’t always that way, and that if they see that kind of spirit cropping back up, they’re going to attack it,” Robinson tells Denisha Merriweather, a former tax credit scholarship student who’s now a family advocate at Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog. “In their world, they see charter schools as part of that. I don’t.” Continue Reading →

Building blocks of educational choice – Lindsey Burke, podcastED

Lindsey Burke

Lindsey Burke

Last week, at the Republican National Convention, it was clear that school choice gives conservatives a positive way to talk about education policy.

But for people who typically want to keep the federal government out of education altogether, what does a national agenda look like?

On the latest edition of our podcast, Lindsey Burke, an education policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says there are ways Congress can promote educational choice without expanding the federal government’s role.

It can re-allocate existing pots of funding so they follow children to schools of their choice. It can also promote choice-friendly policies in areas where the federal government has clear jurisdiction, such as schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or the nation’s capital, where Congress will be looking to re-authorize a closely watched voucher program this year.

In an interview with Denisha Merriweather, an alumna of the Florida tax credit scholarship program who is now a school choice advocate and graduate student at the University of South Florida, Burke says she wants to see policies that go beyond school choice, allowing parents to customize the entire educational path for their children.redefinED-podcast-logo1

The foundation of that system, she hopes, will be education savings accounts, which allow parents to receive an amount of money — typically 90 percent of what the government would otherwise spend on their child — to cover K-12 educational expenses. They can spend it on individual courses, private school tuition, textbooks or education-related therapies, or save the money to pay for college. Continue Reading →