Scott Hosts “Parental Involvement Panel” During School Choice Week

WASHINGTON – During National School Choice Week, U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) hosted a panel of prominent education leaders and parents in Charleston for a discussion on parental involvement in education. Panelists discussed the impact of school closures on students, the lack of transparency within many school systems, and the need for greater choices and educational options.

The parental involvement panel will be followed by a policy panel featuring Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Congressman Burgess Owens. Sen. Scott, Sec. Rice, and Rep. Owens will respond to issues raised by the parent panel and provide a policy perspective to the issues today’s families are facing.

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Panel Highlights:

Ellen Weaver, president and CEO of the Palmetto Promise Institute, discussed the challenges that virtual education posed for low-income and working families:

“The fact remains that for a lot of working families, virtual education was not a workable option for them. They could not stay at home and help their children. So very quickly in June/July of 2020, Palmetto Promise started to work with Governor McMaster here in South Carolina to create an idea know as Safe Grant Scholarships. What we were working to do was to take some of the money that the federal government was sending to South Carolina to enable low-income and working families to be able to get their child back into a face-to-face learning environment.

“Unfortunately, the status quo sprung into action, and I think a lot of times the mindset is more proprietorship than partnership. I think they feel like the resources … belong to a system as opposed to the children that the system was meant to serve. And so, while that program was never able to get off the ground in South Carolina, it did get off the ground in other states, and I count that as a joy. But we’re still fighting the good fight here in South Carolina. In a two-week period, we heard from 15,000 South Carolina families who were desperate for an education lifeline for their child.”

Denise Ladson Johnson, mother of three students and founder and executive director of the Opportunity Calls Everyone Family Development Center, spoke powerfully on behalf of the students she mentors who have struggled with learning loss and loneliness amidst school closures:

“A couple of [my mentees] stated, ‘While schools were virtual, my grades were dropping. I ended up having a 2.7 GPA. I slept more than doing anything. Before COVID closed schools, I had good behavior, good friends, and okay grades. Since COVID, I started getting into trouble a lot, making bad choices and getting bad grades. When the pandemic started, I lost some friends and was not able to see them. Before the pandemic, I felt really good being around my friends. But the pandemic came and I couldn’t see them. I was so sad. I couldn’t go to school, so I had to do it on Zoom. I didn’t like it, and during COVID I drifted away from my friends and basically lost all connections.’”

Nicki Neily, mother of two young students and president and founder of Parents Defending Education, emphasized the need for schools to restore trust with parents through greater transparency — both in curricula and budgets — so that parents can be actively involved in their kids’ education:

“We’re seeing so many schools, school officials, hold parents at arm’s length. … So the whole part of the consent of the governed, I mean, that trust has been broken. That contract has been broken. So it’s little wonder that people feel very disenfranchised by the system, very abandoned by the system, and to me, a big challenge to us going forward is: How do we rebuild that trust? 

“To me, I think transparency will go a long way. The fact [is] that parents don’t know what their children are learning, that they’re being told by their districts to file public records requests. I mean, the default setting is: We should know what our children’s curriculum is because many of us want to actually supplement what they’re doing at school at home. I can’t do that if my teacher won’t tell me that.”

Sen. Scott provided closing remarks: 

“We need a better return on the invested dollar for our kids than what we’re seeing, and there are so many topics that we don’t have time to cover. … I thank you, each and every one of you. Thank you for the time and just investing your expertise into this really important conversation. Frankly, I don’t think it’s over. I think it’s just starting.”

Watch Sen. Scott’s follow-up conversation with Sec. Rice and Rep. Owens at 1:00 p.m. HERE.