As a parent, what lengths would you take to ensure that your child had an opportunity to achieve the American Dream?
If you love your child as much as I love my two daughters, the limits to your sacrifice are endless.
Marian Wright Edelman once said, "Education is a precondition to survival in America today." I believe this to be true. Despite my family's socio-economic status, I knew that a quality education would blaze a trail to a better life for my daughters and allow them to reach their God-given potential.
I am an ex-felon. However, I did not burglarize or assault anyone. I did not rape or steal. I was convicted for falsifying records about my residency so that my daughters could attend a safer, higher-performing suburban school.
Sadly, wanting the best for my children earned me nine days in prison, 80 hours of community service, and two years of probation.
Each night I spent in my jail cell, I prayed for my daughters and spent countless hours thinking about other parents and guardians like me. Parents that were helpless – recognizing that their child deserved a better education than what was being provided, but no rational options to attain it. I thought about families like mine, who did not have room in their tight budgets to pay for private education, nor afford the high property values of suburban districts. What are they to do?
My nightmare was further evidence that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. And, like most rights, our country's most vulnerable communities are left behind.
In an effort to help families avoid the fate that befell to me, I founded the Ohio Parents Union, an organization tasked with empowering parents throughout the state and providing families with resources to effectively advocate for the rights of their children. No longer should parents with children trapped in failing schools be left without rational options.
One of the solutions my organization strongly supports to aid this issue is a parent trigger.
Parent trigger allows a majority of parents to mobilize together and sign a petition to turn around a persistently low-achieving public school. In addition, it provides families with leverage where they otherwise do not have it by increasing pressure on districts and others in charge of failing schools. By granting this power to parents, low-performing schools can now be held accountable to the needs of the students, families, and communities they serve.
Think about it.
It is natural for parents to put the interests of their children above interests of the school system. Moreover, the more power parents can exercise over their children's education, the more likely our cities will be to construct education systems that put our students first.
Despite aggressive efforts to intimidate parents, four states – including my home state of Ohio – have passed comprehensive parent trigger legislation. Many others are have considered, or currently in the process of considering this revolutionary idea.
The concept of parent trigger has even inspired an upcoming film, "Won't Back Down," starring Viola Davis. The film – scheduled for release September 28 – portrays a single mother that organizes parents to take control of their children's failing school over strong union opposition.
I strongly encourage parents, teachers and school administrators to watch the movie.
Though the film was scripted in Hollywood with make-believe characters, real parents across this country are faced with this harsh reality every day. For those parents, please keep your head up and continue fighting the good fight. There is no reason we should have to gamble with the academic outcomes of our children.
I was handcuffed, portrayed as a villain, and called a criminal by our justice system for doing what I could to guarantee my children had access to a quality education, and a chance to have a better life than I had. Like many of you, I am not rich. However, the greatest legacy or inheritance we could ever leave our children is a fair shot to achieve the impossible.
I encourage parents across the country to learn your rights, and visit the websites of StudentsFirst (www.studentsfirst.org), and the Black Alliance for Educational Options (www.baeo.org) to educate yourselves on this issue.
In addition, I urge parents to press elected officials to pursue parent trigger legislation in your communities.
Politicians, I urge you to listen to our voices.
Our kids should not be trapped in failing schools with no way out. This needs to change now. Our future is way too important to wait.
(Kelley Williams-Bolar is a NNPA guest columnist.)