My Testimony Before the Joint Finance Committee Concerning School Choice

Earlier today I had the chance to represent Rock County Christian School before a budget hearing in Janesville, WI concerning our school choice voucher program.   I thought I would share what I said here.  

Above is what I did wind up saying, below is what I actually wrote out in advance:

My name is Kevin Thompson, I’ve been a teacher at Rock County Christian School in Beloit for 11 years. Yet, my story begins many years ago as a struggling student convinced he was not capable of much in life. The message I got from my own family was not encouragement or inspiration but simply that Thompson’s don’t do well in school and thus not much was ever expected of me. I was kept back a year in grade school and spent much of my high school career in the resource room with what we now call academic coaches.

But then in my junior year, everything changed. Through the generosity of a few people in my church, I was able to attend a local Christian school that my family could never afford on its own. As I said everything changed that year. I went from struggling to blossoming. That year the student that many had given up on made honor roll every quarter. Though the workload was much greater and the curriculum much more challenging, this new atmosphere was exactly what I needed to thrive. Though I had great teachers in the public school system that poured their lives into me, this new school turned out to be the best learning environment for me personally. Later I became the first person in my family to earn a four year college degree and that little boy who was told not to expect much out life now has a masters degree and serves as teacher himself.

I believe in school choice because I want all students to have the same opportunity that was once afforded to me. This issue is not about partisan politics or left/right agendas, it is about what is best for the individual student.

On March 12th, Governor Evers posted the following on his Facebook account,

“The People’s Budget creates opportunity for everyone. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said it best: ‘It should not matter where you start out. It shouldn’t matter your ZIP code. It shouldn’t matter your family’s income. You should be able to get ahead.’”

Governor Evers, Lt. Governor Barnes, I could not agree with you more. We should strive to create opportunities for all of the children in our state, not just the wealthy ones. Let’s give each student the tools they need to do their very best. Let’s help place them in the environment best suited to meet their individual needs.

The school choice voucher program is a tool in the hands of parents to help students thrive. It takes away the advantage once only given to the well-off and offers low-income families a hand up. If social and economic equality is what we strive for, than school choice is just one more way we can advance toward that goal.

Gathered with me are several students I have pleasure of teaching. Some of them would never be able to attend this school if it were not for the voucher program. I’m here today fighting for them. I believe they deserve the best shot in life that we can possibly give them. Their future depends on the decision you will soon be making. If you took the time to meet each one of them you would see, they are worth fighting for. They have potential, dreams and aspirations that only a good education can help them achieve. I ask you to fight for them. I beg you to help them stay in a learning environment that has helped them.

I wish I had the time to go through testimonial after testimonial of students that have come our way through the voucher program. I could name the names of students who, for whatever reason, greatly struggled at their previous schools, struggling academically, socially and behaviorally. Yet, here at Rock County Christian, they began improving and working through their individual challenges. It was just a better environment for their person situations.

It is not my goal at all to criticize our public schools. Public school teachers are great people who invest their lives, talents and little income into their classrooms. We need a well-funded public education system. For many, if not most, children in our state, it is the best learning environment for them. Not every student should attend a private or religious school. We are not in competition with the public schools at all, we are on the same team. We all want to see students do their best. We all want students to see the potential that lies within each one of them. School choice accomplishes just that.

School choice gives more options to struggling students and families. School choice helps private schools in reaching students by providing more accountability, more resources, better trained faculty and better facilities. Everyone is helped by that.

Let’s make the needs of the individual student our top priority. Let’s not lose sight of what matters most – these kids.

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