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Lessons from Miss Virginia23 Oct

Miss Virginia is a feature film based on the true life story of Virginia Walden Ford, a single mother who organized a successful parent centered campaign for the Opportunity Scholarship program in Washington D.C. This program helps lower income families in the city who want their children to attend a non-public school.  Virginia is portrayed by Emmy® winner Uzo Aduba and she is joined by Niles Fitch (This is Us) and Matthew Modine (Stranger Things).

Above all else, Miss Virginia is a solid movie with great performances that will make you laugh at times and cry at others. The story is both compelling and relatable. It is worth watching for those reasons alone. 

In addition to the entertainment value, I hope that viewers can discover ways that they can contribute to the educational choice movement by watching this movie.  Miss Virginia brings to life some of the most important lessons that I have learned during my years of advocacy.  

First, I have come to find that the stories of everyday Kentuckians matter above all else.  I often hear people say that they are intimidated by the legislative process. They fear that they will never know enough to be effective. Knowledge does matter when it comes to passing an educational choice program. Nevertheless, it takes more than a good idea.  Lawmakers are moved by compelling stories. 

As an advocate, I have presented the most up-to-date studies to lawmakers on the effectiveness of educational choice programs.  There is typically some head nodding and a nice handshake to end the meeting, but very seldom is there a commitment to take action on the issue.  On the other hand, I have watched those same legislators brought to tears by the stories of parents; parents whose children were struggling in their assigned public school, stories of parents who work multiple jobs and miss precious time with their families just to give their child a chance to succeed. Legislators who have these types of meetings often leave ready to fight for educational choice. 

Miss Virginia illustrates this point well.  The only policy brief on education reform in the movie is discovered in a politician’s trash can.  The issue is ignored. But the politicians could not ignore Virginia and other parents showing up to public forums and telling their stories.  Their stories built a movement. 

We all have a story to tell, whether it is from our perspective as a parent, grandparent, family member or from our own experience as a student. These stories can move elected officials more than anything else.

Second, the fight for educational choice is difficult.  As soon as Virginia started making progress, there was a swift response from defenders of the status quo.  Her simple demand that lower income parents be given the same types of options afforded to more affluent families was attacked as illegitimate and dangerous.  We in Kentucky are all too familiar with these types of tactics. I often run into supporters of this effort who wonder if we will ever pass an educational choice program given how powerful the opposition is in Kentucky.  But here is the good news.  The majority of states have educational choice programs and 18 states have Scholarship Tax Credit programs similar to the one that we are trying to pass in Kentucky. The battle has been fought and won in other states such as Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee. Miss Virginia is only one success story among many. With a recent poll showing that over 60% of Kentuckians want educational choice, it is only a matter of time before the proposal becomes a reality. 

The third and final lesson from Miss Virginia is that this is an urgent matter.  When advocating for her son, Virginia states “my son can’t wait. He needs change today, not tomorrow, not next week, and definitely not ‘eventually’. We’ve been waiting. I’m done”. There are thousands of students just like her son in Kentucky.  These students may not have another year to spare.  Will you be part of the movement that gives them the opportunities that they desperately need? 

I encourage each of you to become an advocate for passing a Scholarship Tax Credits in Kentucky. A Scholarship Tax Credit program would help thousands of Kentucky students succeed by increasing the amount of financial aid available to families who cannot otherwise afford the cost of K-12 non-public school tuition.  You can start by signing up for our newsletter at www.edchoiceky.com.  We will be sharing opportunities for advocacy in the coming months and tools that you can use to help make a difference for Kentucky students.  This will include more information on the newly formed Kentucky Parents Network, which is gathering hundreds of parents together to advocate for choices for Kentucky families.  Please contact me at avandiver@ccky.org if you have any questions about getting involved.   

Andrew Vandiver, Catholic Conference of Kentucky

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