Educational Freedom & MLK’s Dream

Yesterday, we celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and remembered the dream he had for all Americans. A dream where every person—regardless of their skin color or socioeconomic means—can freely exercise the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For our children, access to an excellent and effective education is an integral part of exercising these rights. By giving all students the freedom to attend a high-quality school of their choice, we have the opportunity to honor and live out MLK’s legacy the other 364 days of the year.

While I cannot speak directly for Dr. King, those close to him believe he would support school choice because it empowers parents to find the best learning environment that fits their child’s needs.

Alveda C. King, Martin Luther King’s niece, wrote:

Is it moral to tax families, compel their children’s attendance at schools, and then give them no choice between teaching methods, religious or secular education, and other matters? Is it consistent to proclaim, meanwhile, that America is a nation that prides itself on competition, consumer choice, freedom of religion, and parental responsibility?

I can’t presume to know exactly what my uncle would say about the current debate over school vouchers and choice. But I know what principles he taught, and I know that he not only preached but also practiced them. Martin Luther King Jr. and his siblings were products of public and private education. In turn, they educated their children in both public and private schools—and impressed upon my generation the importance of faith and family in effective schooling.

The issue is not what families choose, but rather, that they be allowed and empowered to do so.

But what about families who cannot afford to choose a different educational setting than their neighborhood public schools? Ms. King replies:

U.S. citizenship guarantees all parents an education for their children. This is a true civil right. Yet some children receive a better education than others due to their parents’ abilities to pay for benefits that are often missing in public schools. This inequity is a violation of the civil rights of the parents and children who are so afflicted by lack of income and by the mismanagement endemic to so many of the country’s public school systems.

Ms. King believes school choice is a civil right and a right all families and students should have the opportunity to exercise. The Center has voiced its support for scholarships that would help low- and middle-income children attend a school of their choosing. Governor Dayton opposed these scholarships in the last legislative session, but the Center will continue advocating for increased access to quality educational options for all students in Minnesota and the freedom to choose these options.

As Dr. King’s son Martin Luther King III said in January 2016:

This is about justice. This is about righteousness. This is about freedom—the freedom to choose for your family and your child.

What choice does is essentially create options, particularly for poor and working families that they would not necessarily normally have.

I would assume my father would support anything that lifted up and created opportunities for ‘the least of these.’

Join Opportunity for All Kids one week from today at the State Capitol to celebrate educational freedom as part of National School Choice Week. The event will include a free breakfast, swag bags for all participants, and great speakers. Attendees will also have the chance to tour the newly renovated and restored State Capitol building. For more event details and free registration, click here.

Educational freedom is not about strengthening one type of school at the expense of another. It is about giving every student the opportunity to attend a school that will help them thrive and achieve their dreams. Thank you, Martin Luther King, for being brave enough to go after yours.