NATIONAL SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 9
(House of Representatives - January 16, 2019)

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[Pages H665-H667]
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                              {time}  1830
                      NATIONAL SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of 
January 3, 2019, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Mitchell) is 
recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.

                             General Leave

  Mr. MITCHELL. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members 
have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and include 
extraneous material on the topic of my Special Order.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Michigan?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. MITCHELL. Madam Speaker, I represent Michigan's 10th 
Congressional District--northern Macomb County and the Thumb. For us in 
Michigan, it is simple. I am from here.
  I am co-chair of the Congressional School Choice Caucus with Senator 
Tim Scott from South Carolina. Today, a number of Members are gathered 
here on the floor to celebrate all types of school choice--from 
traditional public schools, to public charter schools, public magnet 
schools, online learning, private schools, homeschooling, and more.
  Every year, National School Choice Week offers an opportunity to 
parents, educators, and students from around the country to come 
together and share the many successes of education choice in this 
  Yesterday, I introduced a resolution in the House recognizing the 
importance of school choice the week of January 20 through January 26. 
I spent 35 years in business focused on career and technical education 
and workforce education. I know the importance of a preparatory 
education, of a K-12 education to success in the future.
  I am the oldest of seven children. My family struggled. Dad built 
trucks on the line when he wasn't laid off, and mom worked at the 
Salvation Army. I was the first of my extended family to ever set foot 
on a college campus, never mind actually graduate. I saw, firsthand, 
the importance of that education and the skills I could acquire if I 
put my mind to it.
  My mom convinced me I could be anything, and, to her credit, I became 
CEO of a fair-size company devoted to workforce education, to helping 
people gain the skills necessary for a career, or to retrain if they 
lost their jobs.
  My company ran some of the largest welfare-to-work programs in the 
country back when welfare-to-work meant going to work. I personally 
benefitted from that alternative education when I went to college.
  As a father of six, I also know that no two kids are alike. Yes, I am 
the father of six. You would think I would have learned after being the 
oldest of seven, but I didn't. We have a blended family. My oldest is 
in her 30s, and my youngest is 8 years old. We adopted him from Russia 
6 years ago.
  I know that one size of education does not fit for all children. One 
of my children, my daughter, who is 17 now, attends a virtual academy 
because those who have teenagers know that getting your child up as a 
teenager early in the morning to go to school is like running a zoo. It 
doesn't go well. So she goes to virtual school, controls her schedule, 
controls what classes she does that day, controls her time, and learns 
to manage time like we all have to learn as we get older.
  My youngest son has special needs that traditional schools have not 
handled well. He has learning disabilities. He has dyslexia and ADHD. 
It has been suggested I suffer from that as well some days. So we had 
to find an alternative for him. Luckily, my wife was able to stay home 
and homeschool him, but not everyone has that choice.
  Today, we are here to celebrate the range of choices of education, 
innovation education, and to encourage that. I would like to start by 
recognizing one of my colleagues to talk about education. I would like 
to start by recognizing and yielding time to Representative Tim Walberg 
from Michigan's Seventh District.
  I am proud to introduce him. He is a good friend of mine from 
Michigan, who also recognizes the importance of alternative education, 
of education options in our home State, and I now yield to Mr. Walberg.

[[Page H666]]


  Mr. WALBERG. Madam Speaker, I thank my good friend and colleague from 
Michigan, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about something that 
is extremely important.
  In our Michigan State Constitution, Article VIII, section 1, it says: 
``Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government 
and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall 
forever be encouraged.''
  That article--that line was taken from the Northwest Ordinance. I 
think it showed the wisdom of some of our Founders of this great 
Nation, the greatest in the entire world, that they understood that 
education and the means of education gave the opportunity, and, in 
fact, to a great degree, assured the freedom and opportunity of a 
Nation and the morality of a Nation that understood the wisdom that 
came even from the centuries and the ages.
  I think we would all agree that schools should meet the unique 
educational needs of children, wouldn't we? I know my colleague would 
agree with that. And why, then, would we question the fact that there 
ought to be choice? Choice in education, even as we seek choice in our 
daily lives is what makes America great.
  School choice gives parents and children the option of allowing the 
children to flourish. That is the intended goal, isn't it? Michigan has 
a variety of options, and I am grateful for that. It didn't always have 
those same options, but we do now.
  Just 25 years ago, as of this week, Michigan struck out on a new 
opportunity in the fact of allowing charters, public charters, to take 
place, and in those past 25 years, we have literally seen a million 
students attend Michigan's charter schools. Has every charter been 
perfect or successful? No. But overwhelmingly, charters have served 
Michigan well as a choice, as an option.

  I think of the community--a community like Detroit wherein the 
Detroit News just, this week, an article was written talking about the 
success there of the Detroit Edison Public School Academy; ranked the 
number one open-enrollment school in the entire city when it comes to 
college enrollment. Over half of the students in Detroit, a great city, 
now have the opportunity and take the opportunity to attend charter 
schools, and they are flourishing.
  Michigan has a variety of options available to our 2.2 million 
children living in that State, including the opportunity to attend 
traditional public schools outside neighborhood boundaries. That is a 
good thing. Again, it gives choice, meeting the needs of students.
  Now, I had choice, like my colleague, relative to my children. Not 
all people back in the 1980s and mid-1990s, when my children were going 
to their grade school and high school education opportunities, had the 
same choices. Each one of my three kids were different in unique ways. 
They learn different. They have different aptitudes and desires and 
longings and interests.
  We had the opportunity to send our three children to public school, 
private school, and homeschool, and one of our children to vocational 
school, as it was called at the time, for a career in technical 
education that changed her life, literally.
  I thank God for that opportunity. We used it, not simply to make 
choices and have differences, but to meet those unique educational 
needs and opportunities of our kids, and it worked. It worked for them.
  You know something, I so appreciate my good friend and colleague 
having this Special Order tonight, because it is a time when we can 
talk through some of what we would call commonsense ideas and values 
and beliefs, but too often we forget about it.
  For instance, do parents know their children's unique needs, unique 
abilities, unique strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else? I 
think the answer is, and that you and I would agree, that the 
overwhelming majority of parents--we can always pick out that 
dysfunctional family, and, sadly, we need to work in those areas--but 
the overwhelming majority of parents have a clear love for their kids, 
know their needs, and if given the opportunity, will make the best 
choices for their educational experience.
  I have seen that. I have seen that in upper-income strata. I have 
seen that in lower-income strata. I have seen that in rural 
communities. I have seen that in urban communities. I have seen that in 
suburban communities. Parents generally want the best for their kids, 
and that includes education.
  So, for us, to support and encourage choice, and with that choice, to 
certainly hold accountable, but nonetheless to encourage choice and for 
parents to make those choices for the best interest of their kids, I 
see that as an American way. Having the option to choose the learning 
environment, the styles of education that works best for the student, 
whether it be through charter school, private school, home education, 
or traditional public school, having choices allows students to grow 
and find their sweet spot.
  I saw that with my kids, and I want that for all children. So I thank 
Representative Mitchell for encouraging us to think this through during 
this special National Choice Week and to double our efforts to say we 
want kids to be educated, we want to give them that choice, we will 
support that, and, in fact, then we will promote quality in education.
  Mr. MITCHELL. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Michigan for 
joining us tonight in talking about school choice, as he sees it. You 
see, parents have a choice to give their kids a chance, in many cases a 
chance that their ZIP code or their learning limitations otherwise 
would limit them from.
  Let me give you an example. In K-12 education, I was regularly placed 
outside the classroom at a desk to work independently on projects. Why? 
Well, because I asked too many questions. That isn't exactly a learning 
model we would endorse these days.
  My senior year of high school, I was asked to attend one class each 
semester by the assistant principal, debate and public speaking 
because, again, I asked too many questions, and it was easier for 
everybody if I just took exams and wrote reports rather than go to 
class because it was simpler for the teacher.
  See, school choice is not about public versus private schools. It is 
not about the school system. That is a false dichotomy. It is about 
creating an environment in which the students' needs are met. They are 
met to gain skills, not to meet standards, not to get grades, but to 
have the skills necessary to be successful in their life.
  Let me give you one quick example before I turn it over to my 
colleagues. Aley Minton from Port Huron, part of my district, has a 
story I want to tell.
  She was skeptical about educational choice until dire circumstances 
drove her to enroll both her sons in a cyber school, not unlike my 
  The St. Clair County family's old brick-and-mortar school left them 
in a difficult place by not adapting to the special needs for their 
  She says: ``Our family chose to utilize school choice because our 
youngest son is epileptic and our oldest son is dyslexic.'' She knows 
how one son was struggling academically while the timing and intensity 
of his seizures interfered with him regularly going to school and 
maintaining full school hours. Her other son with dyslexia was having a 
difficult time keeping up with school work.
  Now in their sixth year at Michigan Connections Academy, the Minton 
boys are making great strides in their freedom to learn how best for 
them. She says: ``When we first started virtual learning, our oldest 
son was on a second-grade level in the fifth grade. He is now on grade 
level, being successful''. Their needs are being met, and, guess what, 
they are happy going to school.
  Let me take a moment and ask another of my colleagues to join us, 
Congressman Andy Biggs from Arizona's Fifth District. He knows 
firsthand, given his experience with the State, the success with school 
choice models as Arizona continues to be a national leader in providing 
options for parents and their children and for educators.

  I yield to Congressman Andy Biggs from the Fifth District of Arizona.
  Mr. BIGGS. Madam Speaker, I thank Representative Mitchell. I am 
grateful for this opportunity to highlight National School Choice Week, 
which will be next week, January 20 through 26.
  Like many in Congress, I believe the path to success for our Nation's 
youth is through quality education. The best way to provide quality is 
to create competition in the education marketplace.

[[Page H667]]

  For decades, students and families had few options when they went to 
choose education for their children. Today, there is a flourishing 
education marketplace. Some States have erased school district lines, 
directly creating choice within their traditional public school 
systems. Many others have embraced charter schools and duel-enrollment 
programs, and still others have provided educational savings accounts 
for parents and allowed voucher programs to assist families with 
offsetting the cost of private school tuition.
  Educational options should meet the variety of unique needs of 
students. I am glad to see leaders across the country understand those 
needs and promote policies that provide an abundance of options.
  Nearly 30 years ago, my wife and I studied the options available to 
us as parents as we went to educate our children in Arizona. At that 
time, there were very few options. I took the required general 
certification test that allowed us to home educate our oldest children.

                              {time}  1845

  As our family and children grew, so did educational choice in 
Arizona. Our children are each unique individuals with varying talents, 
abilities, and interests. Homeschooling worked for some of our 
children, charter schools for others, and, even within the charter 
schools, different charter schools worked for different children. But 
each of our children received a quality education that allowed them to 
flourish and which prepared them for life.
  Four of our children have graduated from college, the fifth has 
attended college, and our youngest is in her freshman year of college. 
My wife and I are pleased with their successes and are deeply 
appreciative of Arizona's liberal school choice policies that allow 
every child an opportunity to thrive and grow in a school that is the 
best fit for them.
  Today, in Arizona, there are more than 550 charter schools, with 
186,000 students enrolled in the 2016-2017 school year. That is an 
increase of 6,000 students, or almost 6 percent over the previous 
school year, and makes up about 17 percent of all of Arizona's public 
school students.
  But school choice doesn't stop with charter schools in Arizona. We 
also offer scholarships funded by State tax credits to help make 
private schools more affordable, as well as education savings accounts 
that help more than 5,400 students and their families choose the 
educational option that is best for them.
  I firmly believe parents and students should be in the driver's seat 
when determining which educational path best fits their needs. They can 
only do this if local, State, and Federal leaders continue to reduce 
involvement in education decisionmaking.
  Again, I thank Representative Mitchell and the leaders here today and 
those who are working for school choice across this country, those who 
are fighting for policies that benefit students and their families.
  Today's youth will be our future leaders in this great Nation, and 
even in the world. It is, thusly, imperative that we provide them with 
the highest quality education to ensure they have the foundation 
necessary to become the leaders we need.
  Mr. MITCHELL. Madam Speaker, I thank Congressman Biggs for sharing 
his experience and background. I really appreciate him taking the time 
this evening to talk about the importance of school choice.
  As he notes, education should be measured by skills gained, not by 
standardized tests, not by grades, but what young people can do as they 
move through an educational process, begin postsecondary education, and 
start careers. Because long-term, ultimately, the assessment is not 
what a standardized test said; it is what you can get done in a day and 
what you can achieve.
  Part of that is an exposure to STEM--science, technology--vocational 
skills, trades. The reality is we don't do enough in the education 
system to give those choices to young people. In many cases, where they 
live limits their access to those options.
  I have an example of neighbors of mine. Their son wishes to take a 
vocational program that is offered in the school on the other side of 
the county line.
  Now, ironically, by the way, it is closer if he goes there, but 
because of the funding limitations in the school systems, he can't. 
Again, we don't want to limit young people's choices. We want to give 
them options.
  In order to make education options more available, students, parents, 
and school choice advocates must work together to get out the 
information of why it is so important, what difference it makes.
  Let me give you a couple more examples.
  Natalie Fenchel testified before the Michigan Civil Rights Commission 
in July of 2018 talking about school choice. She says:

       There are a lot of misconceptions about charter schools.

  Fenchel said:

       I really got a lot of benefits from going to a charter 
     school and continue to go throughout my college career. 
     Especially with my nursing school, I feel so well prepared.

  She lives in Traverse City, by the way, northern Michigan.

       Traverse City is pretty rural, and charter schools really 
     provided a second option for me. Grand Traverse Academy 
     provided so many benefits that would be unable to be achieved 
     for rural students that otherwise it would be difficult. I'm 
     just really grateful I went to a charter school. It's helped 
     me pursue my nursing degree.

  Let me give you one more example I think will kind of tell the story 
of school choice and school options.
  Kendra, now at Howard University, says:

       Things could have turned out differently if I didn't have 
     the opportunity to pursue a different educational path when I 
     was younger. Thankfully, my parents were given the option to 
     exercise school choice, which is, unfortunately, not the norm 
     for every student.

  Kendra is right. It should be the norm for every parent and every 
  We can't wait, nor should we, for government policy to fix it. There 
should be no Federal policy. I am not here advocating a Federal policy 
for school choice. Rather, I am advocating that we make those options 
available through sharing information, highlighting models, encouraging 
States and communities to make sure they are meeting the needs of young 
people across America because, as Congressman Biggs notes, the future 
of America is those young people.
  Parents, not Washington bureaucrats--I suggest, not bureaucrats in 
States--know what is best for their children. School systems, 
educational options, and funding options for that education need to be 
determined by the parents, working with their children as they get 
  School choice enables communities and local educators to focus upon 
preparing young people for the future, again, rather than preparing 
them for standardized tests, grades, or to push them into a model.
  We need to stop with the whole idea of putting a round peg in a 
square hole and saying that is the best we can do, because America can 
do better for our young people.
  Ultimately, our number one priority ought to be and needs to be 
getting children, getting kids an effective education that will enable 
them to pursue their lives going forward, whatever career path they 
choose, so they are prepared to be successful in this world today.
  Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.