Thursday, June 1, 2023

We Need Urgency. We Need Education Freedom.

In February 2017, I was honored to be the guest of first lady Melania Trump during the President’s Joint Address to Congress. President Trump highlighted my school choice experience as proof to what is possible when parents have education freedom. He stated, “I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”

In December 2019, President Trump hosted a school choice roundtable discussion that highlighted his administration’s Education Freedom Scholarship proposal. Rebecca Friedrichs, Tera and Sam Myers, Walter Blanks, Briana Gilchrist, Miles Maddox, Christina Pryor, and I discussed how education freedom positively impacted our lives and the impact the proposal will have on individuals with similar backgrounds to ours. 

I failed the third grade twice while attending Duval County Public Schools. I don’t blame the teachers or the school’s administrators. I’m not interested in blaming anyone. However, it wasn’t until I had the option to attend a different school and receive community support that I was able to reach my academic potential. I was forgotten no more. I became the first in my family to earn a high school diploma and then a masters. 

I doubt I would have accomplished these feats or lived independent of federal social support programs if not for education freedom. My godmother received a tax-credit scholarship for me to attend a private school, and a voucher from the city of Jacksonville to attend an after-school program. 

I have since devoted my life to ensuring students who grow up like me have access to the same success. When I travel home to Northeast Florida to see my godmother, I witness dilapidated buildings, lack of community resources, decadence, and poorly administered public schools. Just down the street from my family home, two district elementary schools are set to close, and nearly 500 students will be relocated from a neighboring district middle school. These persistently failing schools have robbed the minds of thousands of students and have failed to address their communities’ needs. My community needs new educational options and other resources now. 

The lack of education freedom is a moral and civil epidemic not just for low-income, black and brown folks in broken communities but for the hope of global competitiveness. 

All too often, the political left has discredited their constituents’ support for, the benefits in, and the beneficiaries of school choice because of President Trump. And, the right seems to offer tacit approval in spite of the need for explicit and immediate action. Instead, legislators from across the political spectrum should actively support the Education Freedom Scholarship proposal.

Indeed, this legislation can be used to give more students access to private school education. Yet, it can also fund a myriad of additional resources for students including: after-school programs; tutoring; advanced placement, international baccalaureate, and honors courses; academic enrichment courses like art, music, or world languages; online courses; special education services; remedial education services; technology; internship, corporate work-study, and apprenticeship programs; and home education expenses, including curriculum and other instructional materials. 

The atrocities of our education system have become so commonplace. This has to stop. With the achievement gap widening between our most vulnerable students and our more affluent, the time to increase access to education options is now. 

Denisha Merriweather
Denisha Merriweather was a tax credit scholarship recipient in Florida, the Founder of Black Minds Matter and is the Director of Family Engagement at the American Federation for Children.


  1. In theory, and as a homeschooler, I’m a huge fan of choice. In reality, I have trouble seeing how it wouldn’t leave behind a large number of students. I feel like pushing choice means we’re not dealing with the issue of why so many students are under-served in the first place.


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