WV State Sen. Patricia Puertas Rucker on Universal School Choice

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Senator Patricia Puertas Rucker, a West Virginia state Senator and Chair of the Education Committee. Thanks to her leadership, West Virginia now has the widest, most universal education savings account program in America. Senator Rucker describes the lessons other state legislators across the country can learn from West Virginia’s successful experience. A Venezuelan immigrant, she shares her inspiring story of coming to the U.S., and becoming a state legislator who has led a transformational school choice initiative. She describes how her personal narrative, including her experience homeschooling her five children, some with special needs, drove her later efforts as an elected official to promote wider school choice. She reviews some of the central issues animating parent coalitions that have been prime movers in expanding school choice programs, especially for parents of children with special needs and families of faith.

Stories of the WeekSchool choice offers important alternatives to contentious political debates in K-12 education – but we should refrain from urging parents to abandon all traditional districts, many of which offer high-quality instruction. In New Mexico, a bipartisan group of legislators and parents overwhelmingly support charter public schools, contrary to the divisiveness over charters that exists in many states.

Guest

Patricia Puertas Rucker is a West Virginia state senator serving the 16th District. Her committee assignments, include: chair of the Education Committee and a member of the Agriculture and Rural Development, Banking and Insurance, Judiciary, Health and Human Resources, Natural Resources, and Confirmations Committees. She taught social studies in the Montgomery County Public Schools before starting a family and homeschooling her five children. Patricia is a first generation American citizen, born in Caracas, Venezuela, coming to the U.S., Montgomery County, Maryland, in 1981. She graduated from Trinity College in Washington, D.C with a B.A. in History and minor in Latin American studies.

The next episode will air on Weds., June 1st, with Prof. Paula Giddings, Elizabeth A. Woodson Professor Emerita of Africana Studies at Smith College, and she is the author of, Ida: A Sword Among Lions – Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching.

Tweet of the Week:

News Links:

School choice can take political fights out of education

https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/3497722-school-choice-can-take-political-fights-out-of-education/

Charter schools show education and politics can work in New Mexico

https://www.abqjournal.com/2501242/charter-schools-show-education-and-politics-can-work-in-nm-2.html

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Please excuse typos.

[00:00:00] Cara: hello listeners. Welcome to the learning curve. It is. An interesting day up here in Beantown where I am sitting am so happy to have my good friend here to talk about this in so many more things with me, Gerard Robinson, how you doing today?

[00:00:39] GR: I’m doing well in beautiful, but wet Charlottesville.

[00:00:44] Cara: but wet?

[00:00:45] Well, it’s always beautiful. I’ve never been there. You haven’t invited me. I got nothing.

[00:00:51] GR: Oh, okay. I’ll take that as a hint that I need to check that box, but you know, it was 90 degrees of few days ago was 80 [00:01:00] before that, and now it’s just raining, but it keeps it beautiful and green. Nothing else is breaking the humidity.

[00:01:06] And that’s a good thing here, ups up when the

[00:01:08] Cara: humidity is there and we know how you worry about your hair, Gerard, you know, you’re between the two of us, you weren’t, I am here in Beantown where the weather is quite beautiful. After a very hot weekend. I came home Gerard. I was traveling in an undisclosed location last week and I came home to COVID in the house.

[00:01:29] Oh my goodness. After. Yeah. You know, here we go. You can’t escape it. I don’t know. Maybe you can. I hope you do. Actually. I have to say this, my husband, who, as you know, Gerard is in the medical field. So he sees upwards of 60 patients a day. So we’re just considering this, a miracle that this is the first time it happened.

[00:01:47] Right. And. He’s fine. He’s absolutely fine. It’s it’s a little bit of a man cold, but, uh, yeah, everything’s, good here. lots going on to talk about in our fair city today, though, as you know, pioneer [00:02:00] Institute, released a report a couple of months ago, I’m not saying that we had anything to do with it, but calling for change in the Boston public schools.

[00:02:09] and today was a big day actually, yesterday was a big day because. the department of elementary and secondary education released a second audit of the Boston public schools and found surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise that not many things. In fact, very few things. In fact, almost nothing has gotten better.

[00:02:25] A lot of things have gotten worse as I think, you know, we talked about a couple of weeks ago, Boston recently had to close a school. It will be closed because of, sexual abuse that had been ongoing in the school. So lots of stuff going on in this city, we’re going to see how the political winds blow, but boy, oh boy.

[00:02:44] It’s looking like some big changes ahead for the largest school system in the Commonwealth. so I’m thinking about that. I’m also thinking about, I’m just going to segue right into my story of the week, Gerard, because whenever I think about a place like Boston [00:03:00] and, so many parents who are, I’m just gonna use the word trapped in schools that they don’t want to be in.

[00:03:06] they wish they had a different choice. I think about school choice. I think about the relative. Lack of school choice that we have here in the Commonwealth. I think about the fact that we have managed to put charter schools so far on the rails that we’re not establishing new ones, despite some of the excellent ones that we have.

[00:03:24] And to some extent, I think about what our friend Coleen Fronek has written about this week, , in the hill and the title of Coleen’s article is school choice can take political fights out of education. The main argument here at Gerard, the overarching argument is that, if parents can send their kids.

[00:03:48] To a school that aligns with their values to a school that aligns with the way they see the world to a school that aligns with their beliefs. Now, I, as an advocate of school choice would also put guard rails around that and say, we need to think about how [00:04:00] we provide high quality options that are also mission-driven and that, allow parents the kind of education that they’re seeking for their kids.

[00:04:07] Right. But that school choice can help to meet. Some of these terrible political battles that we’re seeing around education. I don’t have to tell you what those battles are. And I have to say that to some extent, I agree with Colleen and I want to quote her here. She says the current winner takes all system as in sending your kids to district and let’s try and do each other by not allowing school choice, right?

[00:04:33] Forces parents to engage in political battles to get their children. The education they think is best. But when one group of parents wins, that means another group loses. And this point, thank you, calling I think is a really, really good one. So I think in a lot lately, about how many parents, especially in states like mine, where we have such limited choices.

[00:04:57] Are on the losing end. It’s not [00:05:00] even just of the politics Gerard, but just on the losing end of being able to provide their kids with the one thing , that most parents really hold dear. Right? They’d said it makes a difference in life. And that is an education that fits the needs of each kid in each.

[00:05:15] Now I would just call out one caveat here and I would love your take on this drug, because I know that my opinion on this is strong, but it is my opinion. And that is that I’m a little put off that some advocates have school choice in the past couple of years. Have advocated for school choice as a means of escaping public school districts, because there’s a claim that public school districts are somehow teaching inappropriate material, or, not doing right by kids in other ways now.

[00:05:45] I’m not on board with that argument for school choice, I believe deeply in choice for Choice’s sake. And I do believe I’m in alignment with Colleen here, right? That one of the best reasons for choices that every family and parents should have the means as [00:06:00] let’s be clear, wealthy families do to choose the school that meshes with their worldview, mission, vision, of those.

[00:06:09] If you want to be able to choose a faith-based school, please, by all means do it. You shouldn’t have to be a wealthy person to access that kind of education. But I do become a little upset when we say that the reason for school choice should be escaping districts because. There are a lot of great school districts out there doing a lot of great things and no form of education is without a point of view.

[00:06:34] So some parents are choosing districts because of the things that they’re teaching. And many of them aren’t teaching the quote unquote radical content. That’s so many critics want to talk about, right. But we need to support all types of schools across the board. We need to be advocates for kids period.

[00:06:53] And that’s where I come down. But I really appreciate. This story in the hill this week. it was a good way I think, to [00:07:00] connect school choice and how to bring the tone in this country down just a bit.

[00:07:05] GR: When you mentioned exit, it brought me back to a grad school class that I had some years ago, where we looked at, I think it was Albert Hirschman’s book, exit voice, and loyalty.

[00:07:18] And the author talks about the importance of quality goods. And when they deteriorate. What do you do? And so there’s an exit or the voice option. do think some parents. And in fact, I don’t think this is new. Going back to the founding of charter schools in Minnesota or the urban based, what we call the voucher program in Milwaukee.

[00:07:38] There was surely a group of stakeholders in the legislature and also families who say we need an exit out of traditional public schools or. Public education in general. So there’s that point, but I agree with you. Some people are using it politically and not strategically. And there’s a difference. The families 30 years ago, 31 [00:08:00] years ago who wanted to exit it was life or death for some of them, for some of the teachers, it was professional calling and they wanted to practice their craft in different ways.

[00:08:10] So exit for them. Mid strategy for some people is strictly, about, politics. And so on that front, that will be with us for a long time, but we can’t let that group define what school choice is about. Because if a gives critics, more fodder is they see, they simply want to leave democratic schools and go to you, fill in the blank.

[00:08:33] instead of saying, guess what? This is a country of choice. We seem to want to celebrate choice, , in a lot of ways, except when it really comes for education. So great article, , I’m with you. And I also must say going back to the article. Oh, , what you mentioned earlier, kudos to you for the report that you wrote about receivership kudos to the pioneer Institute for publishing it.

[00:08:57] And I say that because. America is a [00:09:00] strong replace, a Massachusetts in particular, because you have think tanks like the pioneer Institute and scholars like you for a host of reasons. You’re giving a lot of academic freedom that some of your colleagues who you went to grad school with who are not professors may not have either because pre-tenure politics or even with tenure, just some of the canceling that comes along with taking the position that someone can see as anti-public school.

[00:09:26] With think tanks we can think and do. So. I just want to give a shout out to you for that work and. Who knows, , has been to audits. And I believe from your report, if there’s two audits that at least puts on the table of the idea of receivership, so nothing’s

[00:09:43] going to happen. I

[00:09:44] Cara: don’t know if there’ll be full blown receivership, but I do think that there is on

[00:09:47] the way.

[00:09:49] GR: Well, as we talk about school choice, my article in facts about charter schools and this from charter schools, from a state we rarely talk about, and that is New Mexico. [00:10:00] And what. I do not know is that New Mexico? Inaccurate at charter law in 1993, make it in one of the earliest states of the country to enact a charter law.

[00:10:09] According to data from the national Institute of charter schools, approximately 97 charter schools, in the state between 20 18, 19, roughly 26,000 students are enrolled. When you look at the score. That the national Alliance provided to New Mexico out of 240 points, they received 152. And so this was strong points and there’s some challenges, well, while that’s taking place.

[00:10:33] And while we know in Washington, DC, there’s a big debate, in the white house, regarding what should we do with, the federal charter school program that advocates, writing letters. There are others who are starting to protest while that’s taking place in New Mexico. This Democrats and Republicans found a way to come together and actually support charter schools.

[00:10:54] So in the past legislative session, and this is an article written by Matt Paul, who was the [00:11:00] executive director of public charter school. The New Mexico, , men identify a new law that took step is actually providing charter schools with more facility funding and options. And you and I know charter school facility funding is huge.

[00:11:13] As much as critics want to say that charter schools are sucking up all the money. One area where charter schools are not receiving funding in ways or other public school counterparts. Do. Relates to facilities. So we’re glad to see that also the house and Senate unanimously passed and the governor signed a measure to increase spending, not only for charter schools facilities, but to create a new loan fund for permanent charter school facilities.

[00:11:38] So a bit win. Well, how do they do it? According to. Lawmakers in New Mexico, they’ll spend their time solely at the Capitol building or in committee hearings. They actually listen to their constituents. People who live with them, people who shop at the same grocery stores, they do may attend the same, faith community or those institutions, but they found [00:12:00] out two things.

[00:12:00] Number one, they found out that people actually believe charter schools better according to a pre pandemic poll families. And one of the comments New Mexico found that believe that charter schools improve education, their community, and 75% want more charter school options. As Matt keenly pointed out families like public schools, charter schools are public schools and therefore it should be one of the options that people like and they want more of it.

[00:12:28] So when we often think about flying. Or states, whether you want to include New Mexico in there and not, maybe you can or can’t, but what I will say is while the east coast and the west coast are fighting over all kinds of things, as we’re flying overstates let’s land, either personally, intellectually or interest in terms of AI, Let’s look at something differently, New Mexico, who is doing some pretty good things.

[00:12:51] And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say hello to my colleague, Canada. Skandera, who’s a former secretary in New Mexico now president of the Daniels fund [00:13:00] and also to Michael Hora, Aspen cohort sister, Carra Bob Roth, who is a founder of a native American community academy in 2006. And the Nexa inspired school.

[00:13:11] Network, which includes, charter schools. So that is my story. What are your thoughts?

[00:13:15] Cara: I think that this is just, you know, any time that we’re talking about charter schools and it’s, fascinating stuff. I worry about our charter schools today, Gerard, as you know, but I’m glad that we can keep talking about them, bringing them up here on this show.

[00:13:31] Highlighting, you know, talking about the challenges and all the good stuff and I thank you for that. It’s really important stuff to our, we’ve got a guest coming up, Gerard, who’s not only going to talk to us about it. She’s gonna, merge our two stores. You’re going to talk to us about the landscape in West Virginia.

[00:13:47] have we had other guests on before from West

[00:13:49] Patricia: Virginia, Gerard?

[00:13:50] GR: I don’t believe so, but we’ve had someone with. Virginia theme, because that provided me

[00:13:58] well, can you do it again? [00:14:00] Nope.

[00:14:01] Cara: Oh, maybe we’ll get our next guest to do it, but we’re going to talk to her about, I mean, so talk about place that merges both of our stories.

[00:14:08] West Virginia in one year passes a charter school law that needed to be improved. And then another year passes the most expansive school choice program in the whole country. So I’m pretty excited to talk about. Who can sort of merge the themes of both of our stories of the week. And do you know who she is, Gerard, this person that we’re going to be doing?

[00:14:30] I do not

[00:14:31] this

[00:14:31] Cara: Now we’re going to be talking to a woman who not only has a really phenomenal personal story about why she cares about education and how she came to the work, but somebody who was integral in expanding opportunities, both in terms of charters and. For West Virginia students and her name is Senator Patricia Rucker.

[00:14:53] She is the chair of the Senate education committee in West Virginia, and just a fierce warrior for all [00:15:00] things, that can equal better opportunities for the kids and families of her state. So really, really excited to talk to her coming up right after.

[00:15:34] Learning curve listeners. We are back as promised with an absolutely fabulous guests. We are speaking today with Senator Patricia Portis Rucker. She is a West Virginia state Senator serving the 16th district. Her committee assignments include chair of the education committee and a member of the agriculture and rural development banking and insurance judicial.

[00:15:55] Health and human resources, natural resources and confirmation [00:16:00] committing. So clearly she has nothing at all to do. She is not a busy woman. she taught social studies in the Montgomery county public schools before starting a family and homeschooling her five children. Patricia is a first-generation American citizen born in Caracas, Venezuela coming to the.

[00:16:18] Montgomery county, Maryland in 1981. She graduated from Trinity college in Washington, DC with a BA in history and a minor in Latin American studies. Senator Rucker. Welcome to the learning curve.

[00:16:30] Patricia: Thank you so much. It is a pleasure to be able to be with you. Yeah, well, , we

[00:16:35] Cara: are thrilled, I think, , , as Gerard knows, because he was at the same place.

[00:16:39] you participated last year in the national summit on education that is hosted annually by Excel and ed and I had great pleasure of monitoring a panel on which you served and in which you got to talk to those present about. The passage of what is now the widest most universal [00:17:00] education savings account program in America, in West Virginia, you were integral in making that happen.

[00:17:07] I just want to, for our listeners who might not be overly familiar, although if you listen frequently, you definitely know what an ESA is by now. It is, a program that allows parents to direct the public fight. Allocated the state funds allocated to their child’s education and it allows parents to choose from a range of education.

[00:17:28] Services, to put together the education that best serves their children and you Senator wrecker made that happen. Could you share with our listeners, the lessons learned from West Virginia, a state that by the way, just a couple of years ago, some might’ve said was not very choice friendly. What, what could you tell other legislators across this country about your experience opening up choice for West Virginia?

[00:17:55] Patricia: Well, I will say that, , the way you phrased it as putting it very [00:18:00] mildly, because as a patient share three years ago, there was zero, , education choice in the state of West Virginia. , through the efforts that we have had some 2019, we now have. several things like charter schools, open enrollment, but it was always my goal to get a broad based what I considered non-discriminatory, education savings account, where the money truly does follow the child, wherever parents think the child needs to be.

[00:18:33] And so it’s a parent driven, , option. And in terms of the lessons learned, I can tell you that the number one. Most important thing is that, you know why you are pushing for what you’re pushing for. And if you’re pushing for education savings account, it’s because, or should be because you believe that the parents are the best ones to make decisions as to where they’re doing.

[00:18:57] needs what they need for their education. And you [00:19:00] believe in the American, the basic American dream that every single child deserves a good education and is worthy of getting the education that they need for themselves. As individuals, America was built on this principle of individualism that everyone has, or should have the opportunity, not necessarily.

[00:19:22] But the same opportunity. And it’s amazing to me that it is as difficult to get that translated into something as basic as universal education for all, which means that it needs to be as individualized as possible because not everyone is going to need the same thing or it’s going to thrive in the same.

[00:19:43] Cara: love how you put that. And I, when I was a professor, I used to talk to my students about equality of opportunity, being very different from equality of outcome. and quality of opportunity I think is really what you’ve done here is the best we can do I want to ask you a little bit about the American dream, but I also want to ask you [00:20:00] quickly about now when I think of West Virginia, yes.

[00:20:02] You have opened up choices for students and families in recent years. Until very recently, in fact, , your ESA program will launch just at this fall. The parents are applying now. what you’re up against is just. People who have never known anything in the state except for public education, which means vested interests in sustaining that system and sustaining that status quo and to be clear listeners, an ESA in no way, dismantles a high quality public education system either.

[00:20:29] I that’s not at all what this is about. It’s about having both. And how do you achieve both? but can you talk a little bit about. Those vested interests that you had to go up against, who would have rather maintained the status quo? really briefly, what was that fight like for you?

[00:20:44] How did you leverage your powers of persuasive?

[00:20:48] Patricia: So, yes. clearly the teachers association in the state of West Virginia, which has pretty much controlled, all public education dollars for, the entire history of West [00:21:00] Virginia. Where are very powerful and very strong. And they managed through their efforts to derail every single attack West Virginia has ever had at any kind of school choice.

[00:21:11] and in 2018 and 2019 back to back, we had major teacher strikes in the state. but it was meant to intimidate and scare. legislators when they had their last teacher strike in 2019 and they managed to stop the ESA. That was very minor, very small. It was like many other states. I was trying to just start something just for a small limited number of students and they killed it essentially through their efforts.

[00:21:41] And with them, we’re all of the, usual, you know, the people who think that public education is the only way all of those forces. I just had to. Tell them like publicly announced y’all better get me on elected because if I come back, I’m going to make you regret killing that simple little ESA.

[00:21:59] And [00:22:00] so I almost had to, in my state at least had to prove that the unions were not as powerful as they say they are. And that meant going through another election cycle where I got reelected, despite all their best efforts to unseat me, to basically demonstrate to other legislators that look. They’re not as powerful as you think they are.

[00:22:20] And second that this is a battle worth fighting for, unions and the associations and those who want to protect the interests of government run schools. They are at the Capitol and they know how to show up and they know how to organize and send emails. But guess what? There’s a lot more parents and students out there than they are.

[00:22:40] And they may not be as active and as organized, but there’s a lot more votes there than there is from the teachers, associations and unions. And parents want this. can’t even express to you the number of letters, the gratitude that is demonstrated by folks from all over [00:23:00] West Virginia. And, you know, we decided to call our education savings account program.

[00:23:04] The hope scholarship. It truly is giving them hope. I mean, they literally write to me and say, thank you because for the first time I have hope that I can get my child what they need.

[00:23:16] Cara: that’s pretty amazing. And it is, it is really a great name for a scholarship account. And I think that any of us who are interested in education certainly watched red for ed in West Virginia, those, not very long ago.

[00:23:28] So it’s pretty remarkable story. when I asked you the first question, you, started to talk a little bit about the American dream and many people might not know that you actually have this very compelling story, that you are an immigrant from Venezuela. You came to the U S now you are a state legislator.

[00:23:46] You’ve, taught school. You’ve led this transformational school choice initiative. Can you talk a little bit about, how your personal narrative your life has in your experience have [00:24:00] informed your work and maybe also, like, how has that. Informed your willingness to take risks such as the risk that you took in not being reelected by standing up for K-12 education.

[00:24:11] Patricia: Right. Well, thank you so much for asking. That’s not a question I get very often, but I absolutely love it because, I am the embodiment of that American dream, the same dream that so many people, especially out in the media world say it’s dead and they try to portray America as this terrible place.

[00:24:30] But reality is there is no other place in the world where you can integrate. go, not be able to speak the language, not have any background. I have any family literally start from nothing. 20 years later be running for office that just does not happen. And I am so honored and blessed by the opportunities that I was given.

[00:24:54] I came to this country as a six-year-old. I could not even speak my own language well, so, I [00:25:00] had this incredible experience in the public school system that took this, young child. Helped her with her own language development and then taught her English. And within a few short years, I was in honors classes.

[00:25:15] I had all of these incredible experiences like debate and band and getting to participate in athletics, lots of opportunities to learn all sorts of things. And, I will tell you, I never expected to run for public office. Always always loved the institution of the United States, the constitution, the stories of our founders.

[00:25:38] And, when I get the opportunity to give back, it’s just, I just thank God for that. And in terms of how that informs me, as you can imagine, I really believe in that American dream. I think everyone should have. The same opportunities, the ability to be able to rise up from wherever they are, and it doesn’t matter their background or [00:26:00] color, what language they speak, if they’re rich and if they’re poor, none of that should matter.

[00:26:06] Everyone deserves a good education and everyone deserves an opportunity to meet their potential.

[00:26:11] GR: So of Rutgers, so great to have you join us. I should state upfront that my father, I was born and raised in Charleston. And imagine waited many, many years ago from the Charleston public school system and his sister, my aunt Edna Williams, graduated from the public school system in the city later.

[00:26:29] She went to what was then West Virginia. Earned a master’s in West Virginia university and for 20 plus years was a school teacher in that system. When my dad, moved west, to California, Los Angeles in particular, he, my mom decided to enroll me into Catholic schools because they were anti-public school.

[00:26:47] They knew and benefited from public education. It was their choice and they wanted to go that route. So wanted to put it perspective if it’s always good to hear a voice from somebody who is in the Western.

[00:26:57] Patricia: Well, that’s crazy.[00:27:00]

[00:27:00] GR: Here’s a question for you and I listeners may not know this, before you became who we now know as Senator wrecker, you were a homeschooling mom for five children.

[00:27:09] While your husband worked two jobs. Talk to our listeners about the experience with homeschooling and how that drove your decision to promote wider school choice. Once you became an elected official.

[00:27:20] Patricia: So I did get the, again, blessed that my husband was willing to work two jobs so that I could stay at home instead of going back to work.

[00:27:30] And I could, educate my own children. It was not something I wanted to do. We did attempt to put our oldest child in the public education system. She had some special needs and. It was, this heartening to have to deal with the response that the public school had to her special needs. They were very inflexible.

[00:27:53] There were not listening to what we were saying. And unfortunately my daughter did not have a very good experience and they were not [00:28:00] able to keep her safe. And after I think I left at about 46 a week and she was coming home with bite marks and bruises. And I was just going to the school and telling them this is not acceptable.

[00:28:12] And their response was well, the only way we could keep her safe and that special education classroom is to lock her up in a high chair so that she is separated from the other kids. And I said, so your answer to keeping her safe is to punish her. that’s not an acceptable answer to me. And I kind of, I hate to say it, but I kind of said, no, thank you.

[00:28:35] I didn’t know what I was doing. I never trained to be an elementary school teacher or a special education teacher. And I was a little bit terrified, but I wanted my daughter. To obviously be safe and to get what she needed. So I pulled her out, started homeschooling tons of reading and research and we had to privately pay for all the services that she needed.

[00:28:58] I ended up having another child with [00:29:00] special needs, my third child, and had to do all those same relearning of, everything and knowing what he needed and getting him what he needs. But. I’m very grateful. I had that opportunity and I had the knowledge and the ability, what breaks my heart is that there are parents in those situations feel they don’t have any choices.

[00:29:21] They don’t have either the opportunity. They don’t have a spouse that is willing to, or able to afford them staying at home, or they don’t feel they have the skills or. they know their child needs something and they don’t have the funds to get those things have the child needs. I get those stories of the time ever since I was elected.

[00:29:44] And, , I don’t know how I can be expected as someone who wants to do the best job I can representing my constituents. To not find a solution to help these individuals. These are our citizens. These are people who pay taxes. They live [00:30:00] they’re our neighbors, and we’re essentially telling them too bad.

[00:30:03] that was never an acceptable option for me. So it was really a passion that I had to help those who were in the same situation as myself, their children needed something other than a public education system. And didn’t have those options.

[00:30:19] GR: Well, speaking of students with special needs, I’m on the board of an organization called respectability.

[00:30:25] It’s headquartered in Maryland, our founder, Jennifer mush, Ronnie’s then a guest here. And one of the reasons I joined her board, , based on her invitation is because we worked to create, an avenue to talk about how people with disabilities and special needs or. You’d or undervalued, in American society, not only in schools, but also work.

[00:30:47] And so when you mentioned that, I just think about the broader conversation. The fact that punishment was the answer. When you were looking for progress, just speaks volumes and natural. We know that some other teachers have responded differently [00:31:00] as it relates to you. how did your experience.

[00:31:04] With children with special need and also working in that arena. How did you make that link to school choice? There are a lot of opponents of school choice who said for years, that school choice should be abandoned because guess what choice programs particularly private schools do not take students with special needs?

[00:31:23] Is that true?

[00:31:24] Patricia: I’ve heard that also. And I’ve seen for myself that that’s not always true. Yes. There are some private schools that cannot handle, certain special needs or disabilities, but there are lots that do, but in addition to that, again, mostly from my own personal experience where I was able to homeschool my children who had pretty serious special needs with.

[00:31:49] Being special ed certified and without, really. I started out with no, no experience to help me, but I was able to do it. And my children, thank God, have succeeded and [00:32:00] overcome and are fine. And they’re adults now. And they’re thriving. I know in my heart that, We have the capability to overcome, all of these fins and, special needs can be things like learning delays.

[00:32:15] It can be an illness, a very severe illness that causes huge. For example, like seizures that to miss out without. You know, you miss out on school, you miss out on things and activities. it could be something as not knowing the language like I had and having to overcome that issue of speech pathology issues.

[00:32:35] There’s so many diversity of special of what can go onto the category of special needs. And guess what? Each one has a different response. And each one of those, there are different levels of need within those. You cannot class, all the kids that have autism with one way of telling it because they respond to different things and there’s different levels and there’s different severities.

[00:32:58] And. [00:33:00] Very unique just under that one category. So to expect that a public education system is going to be able to address every single type of special need, there is really, I think too much of any one system. The reality is the more you individualize the way we treat education and handle individuals.

[00:33:22] The more we allow for customization, the better they’re going to do. And for me, God med school choice. It meant that for those kids who a classroom of 25 is not the right place, let’s help them. What would work for them. And sometimes it is possible to have that innovation and that flexibility within a public school system.

[00:33:46] I have seen public schools that have been able to do that, but unfortunately it’s not very often. And it almost, happens as. The exception to the world instead of the rule, I’m hoping that by introducing the idea of [00:34:00] school choice and empowering parents to look into what their kids need, we’re going to actually encourage that type of flexibility within the public education system to

[00:34:09] GR: absolutely.

[00:34:10] So your state’s been almost like a poster child for. , quickly, as Kara mentioned earlier, and you discussed with her a few years ago, people would have thought this was just unrealistic for a place like West Virginia, but you’re moving forward. Other states have also expanded choice programs, families of faith.

[00:34:29] have also been prime movers of the school choice legislation. Could you talk to us about the role of parent coalitions and the diversity within it to make what you have in West Virginia? A reality.

[00:34:42] Patricia: Well, thank you so much for bringing that up. One of the most important lessons learned from my first attempt to pass, , my education savings account, I did not organize or reach out for coalition partners.

[00:34:57] And that really was part of the reason for why. [00:35:00] Did fall apart with the associations being able to basically kill that attempt. The second time around, I learned from that experience and way, way ahead of time before the session ever began, I started reaching out to. What I would consider interested parties.

[00:35:17] So for example, private schools, and I asked them what they would think about legislation that would allow us to have education, savings account and explained to it what it was. And they were excited about the thought and the possibilities of it. And I said, well, I need you all to organize. I need you all to help educate others.

[00:35:36] I need y’all to, be advocates for this. If I end up introducing this legislation, and then I did the same thing with parents. I had several town halls where I was educating them about what. Is what we’re trying to do and why, and asking the same things. I need you all to work on your legislators to talk to those people who represent you to help me get this done.

[00:35:59] [00:36:00] So we started early on and, that was a huge difference. So the second time around a successful time in 2020, that was a. Big difference. We were getting letters, emails, and visits from parents and individuals in support. And it wasn’t just the association setting the narrative. And I should point out that at this time we’re talking, this was after COVID.

[00:36:24] Parents were pretty upset with the way that most of the public schools handled COVID. with the fact that schools were closed down, there were teachers who were refusing to return to work. And in the meantime, they have to return to work, but had nowhere to put their children, remote learning was a disaster.

[00:36:42] All of those things help to really energize , , those parents who were looking for something different and something better. And so all of that played a role. Well,

[00:36:52] GR: I’m going to go ahead and close us out again. Great to hear your voice great to have you , in, , public policy. Great to have your [00:37:00] story, a part of the American dream, glad to hear West Virginia anchored in conversations about reform.

[00:37:06] Often when we hear about, , the mountain state is. Uh, negative things, but there are a lot of great things growing in that state and you’re playing a role in that. So just don’t care and I are here to be supportive of you and your work. And at some point when I know I’m coming to your state, I’ll let you know.

[00:37:21] And hopefully we can get together at some point and talk more about this in person.

[00:37:26] Patricia: I would love that. Thank you so much. And thanks for the opportunity to talk about what. Yeah,

[00:37:32] Cara: and then hopefully I’ll be invited to, I just want to say it because I also a good John Denver Senator Rutgers. So just, we can do a little, we’ll have a little party featured by, through hard Robinson.

[00:37:46] Thank you so much for your time today. It was just wonderful speaking with you and thank you for your great work.

[00:37:52] Patricia: Thank you so much. You guys have a great day. Take care.[00:38:00]

[00:38:24] Cara: Gerard as always, we’re going to close it out with our tweet of the week and this one. Ooh, favorite topic of mine. We have talked about this before. It’s from education next and it says, quote so long as admissions exams are intended to fairly apportion opportunities to talented students, age allowance.

[00:38:44] Are appropriate. And so this article is about birthday bias. It’s about how, high state tests and, fairness. And I, what I love about this is that, we want to be sure that we’ve got opportunities for everyone, including our most talented [00:39:00] students. And, it’s great article. I highly suggest.

[00:39:03] And next week, Gerard, I know you’re, unable. You are a busy man and I’m going to have a guest host with me next week, but we are going to be speaking to Professor Paula Giddings. She is the Elizabeth, a Woodson professor, emerita of Africana studies at Smith college. And she is the author of a sword among lions, Ida B Wells and the campaign against lynching.

[00:39:26] Boy, I am looking forward to that one. Gerard, I’m going to miss. I do think we’re going to be here with, a special guest host, who is a friend of the show, but I hope that whatever it is you’re doing, I know it’s always something of great import because you are one of the busiest people. I know my friend, so

[00:39:42] GR: sorry.

[00:39:42] I won’t get a chance to share the conversation with you next week. our guest is a graduate of. Uh, so I’m always glad to see that author of a book on Delta Sigma data, a African-American female sorority founded at Howard university, and she has got so much great stuff in addition to that book. [00:40:00] So I look forward to being a listener, , at that time and look forward to joining you the following week.

[00:40:06] Cara: Yeah, well until then. Yeah, I’ll miss you. And, you take care best to your family and we will, of course, be back with updates on all of the pioneer Institute centric goings on in Boston. It’s like, it’s just a big old soap opera over here. Gerard, you take care of yourself,

[00:40:21] have a good

[00:40:21] GR: one. Enjoy being town and watch the beans being thrown at you

[00:40:27] as

[00:40:27] Cara: they are.


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