Seeking Common Ground on School Choice
By Jake Penwell, State Director, ACE Montana
What would happen if we all invited someone we didn’t agree with on a political or social issue to grab a cup of coffee and simply get to know them?
We might find we have more in common than we could imagine.
I put this principle into action after learning about Return to Civility – a movement launched by Foster Friess, a nationally-known business leader and philanthropist, with the goal of bringing together Americans from opposing views to benefit efforts that both can embrace. The movement is inspiring people across the country to set aside their differences and reach out to one another in a spirit of openness, honesty, and mutual respect.
In that spirit, I reached out to someone who is an outspoken opponent of school choice initiatives simply to engage them in a conversation. Rather than focus on our differences, I tried to find areas where we could find common ground. The results were remarkable.
- We found that we both had favorite teachers who inspired us by their knowledge, demanded that we give our best, and awakened us to our potential in life. We also agreed that teachers are undervalued in our society, given the impact they have on the lives of students and families.
- We also enjoyed sharing stories of principals, coaches, librarians, and others whose leadership, words, and examples have echoed down through the years in our lives.
- We agreed that there are great teachers, administrators, and coaches in public and private schools.
- There was even common ground to be found when our conversation turned to the plight of the roughly 15 percent of Montana students 18-24 who have not completed high school. We agreed that each one of these young people has the potential to be a doctor, engineer, teacher, or to work in skilled trades, but instead their lives are at risk because of dropping out of school.
While he sympathized with the difficult circumstances faced by low-income parents whose children are falling behind in their assigned school, he maintained his firm conviction that any government resources directed to parental-choice programs would undermine the public-school system.
While not changing his position, it was clear by the end of the conversation that he realized that people like me who support parental choice programs are not against public schools, rather we see ourselves as complementing the public education system by offering alternatives to those who can’t afford school choice and whose child is struggling in an assigned public school.
At ACE Scholarships, we applaud all teachers and schools, public or independent, who do such an incredible job educating Montana’s students. We also recognize the importance of providing options to not only the 15 percent of students in the state who are at-risk of dropping out so they too can achieve their extraordinary potential in life, but also to those who simply desire something different than their assigned public school.
For more information on ACE Montana, please contact me at JPenwell@ACEScholarships.org