Two things, more than any others, changed the direction of my life.
The first: the decision of two loving people – one a Denver cop, the other a stay-at-home mom – to adopt me when my biological mother gave me up for adoption.
The second: the decision of my parents to jerk me out of school and put me in a stricter, more rigorous environment when my academic performance wasn’t up to snuff.
I am a product of school choice.
As your Senator, I’ll fight to make sure every student – regardless of race, regardless of zip code, and regardless of socioeconomic status – has the same educational options my parents exercised.
Tragically, that’s not currently the case. And that is unacceptable.
We are spending record amounts on education, and too many of our kids are trapped in underperforming schools. Too many parents don’t have the financial means to choose a better option.
Just look at the numbers. Only 45 percent of fifth graders in Colorado are reading and writing at grade level, and only a quarter of seventh graders are at grade level in math. Only about 35 percent of Colorado juniors are ready for college when it comes to math. Forty-two percent are not ready for college in reading and writing.
Sadly, socioeconomic status is the biggest driver of educational attainment. Fifty percent of middle-and upper-income third graders in Colorado are proficient in reading and writing. For kids above the poverty level, about half can read and write at grade level. But for kids eligible for free and reduced lunch, only 22 percent can read and write at grade level. For elementary and middle school, the difference is stark: 50 percent of kids from financially well-off families can read and write at grade level, and only 27 percent of children from low-income homes can read and write at grade level.
COVID shutdowns proved that parents with resources have all the choices they need. It’s working parents who need the hand. And, one in four kids on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum aren’t getting what they need to be all they can be.
When a well-to-do parent sees a need, they hire a tutor or change schools. When a working class or low-income family sees an academic need, their options are limited.
It’s un-American. We can do better.
This problem isn’t partisan, either. Republicans and Democrats talk a good game, but neither are getting the job done. No one in politics attacks this issue with the urgency our kids deserve.
I will. As your Senator, I’ll push for a big expansion of school choice options. I’ll fight for parents.
If I’m hired to be Colorado’s next Senator, I’ll bring on board a full-time auditor to better spend the taxpayers’ money, and to look for new dollars to fund expanded avenues for parental choice. I’ve cut waste and reprioritized spending in business, I’ll do it in the U.S. Senate, too. I’m going to amass a list of cuts to let Washington know this isn’t business as usual, and with a portion of those cuts and efficiencies, we will fund direct educational support for our kids.
As a starting point, I’ll push to use leftover COVID money and the savings from this audit to fund direct financial aid for students in schools that are not meeting the mark, or for children who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or other disability. We should invest directly in empowering parents and give them the resources to support a choice that could change their child’s life, just like it did mine.
States like Arizona have bold education savings programs that support this kind of work. Rather than fund the education bureaucracy or the Washington, D.C. bureaucracy, these programs deserve more direct aid.
Parents should be allowed to place their children in the school of their choice, the money should follow the kids not the school system.
By elevating the education level of all children in the U.S. we will change poverty, reduce crime, and drive productivity into society. And we’ll make the American economy stronger too.
We need an Educational Revolution. The revolution should be powered by the choices of parents.
I’m a contractor; I don’t care about politics. I know how to make tough decision and budget cuts. I’m going to do the same in Washington, D.C. to better support parents and kids.
The greatest civil rights victory this generation could deliver would be to make good on an education system that is equal; to bring to life an education system that doesn’t discriminate based on zip code; to empower parents. Let’s work together to give our kids the educational opportunity they deserve.
Joe O’Dea is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate on Colorado’s November’s ballot.
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