Wow, what a fun, informative and inspirational two days. Nearly 800 parent advocates, legislators and allies registered for the first-ever virtual Parent Leadership Conference. Thanks to the virtual format, we were able to bring together the largest and most diverse audience, and the biggest lineup of speakers to-date.
This year’s agenda included friends from across the education reform and parent choice movement, a Heisman Trophy winner and sports icon, and a New York Times best-selling author and marketing expert who has helped some of America’s biggest household names tell their brand story.
Our 5 biggest takeaways:
- COVID-19 has created an incredible opportunity for us. School closures have led many lawmakers to experience remote learning in their own homes. A growing number of families are demanding more control over their child’s education. How can we harness this energy to propel the future of the parent choice movement?
- COVID-19 has also created an unusual environment for advocacy, where all outreach to policymakers must be done virtually. This can actually be a blessing in disguise—as more parents than ever can get involved without having to leave the comfort of their own homes.
- Minority and low-income families stand to benefit greatly from the expansion of school choice. It’s up to us to ensure their voices are represented, and we must fight for policies that protect and promote their access to educational options.
- The success of our efforts depends greatly on how well we tell our story.
- It’s more important than ever for us to work together across the school choice movement to support one another in our efforts.
Full recap of the event below:
We kicked off the conference on Wednesday with remarks from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and U.S. Senator Tim Scott, both are incredible representatives of elected officials who are champions for school choice. In fact, did you know Sen. Scott recently co-sponsored the School Choice Now Act? Talk about leadership in action!
We then shifted gears and heard from our friend Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, who shared some powerful words of encouragement for parent advocates.
Reason Foundation’s Corey DeAngelis and the Foundation for Economic Education’s Kerry McDonald then joined us for a discussion current education situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the incredible opportunity it has posed for school choice and virtual schools. As traditional brick and mortar schools closed and many remain closed, parents are speaking up and wondering why they can’t use their educational dollars to send their child to a school that better fits their needs right now. Parents have also become more empowered to take their child’s education into their own hands, with some shifting to learning pods and homeschooling.
Dr. Ian Kinsbury of the Empire Center for Public Policy shared some important research related to the impact charter regulations are having on underserved and minority communities. Onerous regulations have led to historic lows in new charter school applications and approvals in many communities across the country, further limiting educational options for families in need.
We also heard from former and current state legislators and policy experts on the policies impacting parent choice in Florida, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Oregon.
On Day 2 we shifted our focus to advocacy. We started the day with the presentation of the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Howard Fuller. Dr. Fuller has been a long-time leader in the education reform space, and the policies he’s championed have enabled thousands of low-income and minority students to receive a quality education. He’s a truly inspiring figure in the movement, and it was our honor to present him with the award.
We also welcomed Tim Tebow, Heisman trophy winner, 2x national champion and best-selling author to the PLC2020 stage. And, WOW! He truly brought the [virtual] house down. From the comments we received on Twitter, there wasn’t a dry eye in the PSO universe as he shared his personal story on how his parent’s decision to homeschool him and his siblings enabled him to overcome learning challenges to become not only one of the biggest names in sports, but also a team leader and champion for his faith and the issues he holds dear. He reminded us that as parents, we are our children’s greatest example and we owe it to them to be their biggest advocates and champions.
Tebow truly has an incredible story to tell. Donald Miller, CEO of StoryBrand, shared his expertise on how we can better tell our own stories (and be the heroes Tebow encouraged us all to be!) We all have a powerful story to tell, and our success as advocates depends on how well we tell our story. To be successful, we must be clear in our message, never stop talking about the problem and invite stakeholders to be the hero of the story.
No stranger to the PSO Parent Leadership Conference, Andrew Campanella of National School Choice Week encouraged advocates from across the school choice space to stick together to promote and defend online schooling. Robert Enlow and Jason Bedrick of EdChoice shared their thoughts on accountability. “Real accountability (in education) means being directly accountable to those that bear the consequences of your performance,” shared Bedrick.
Switching gears a bit, we welcomed Jennifer Schultze of Wyoming Virtual Academy, Amy Dunlap of Michigan Connections Academy, Melissa Ley of Northeast Florida Virtual Charter SchoolBoard and Letrisha Weber of the PSO Board of Directors for a conversation on the role parents play as their child’s learning coach. They shared some incredible tips that all virtual school parents can use, no matter if they are new to online learning or have been doing it for years. Keeping with the theme of supporting parents, we welcomed Carla Tantillo Philbert of Mindful Practices who shared some incredible insight on how to model healthy habits and behaviors for online learning.
We then ended the day with panel discussions featuring Dee Stewart of the North Carolina Parent Coalition, Kensley Leonard of the South Carolina Parent Coalition, Chris Whyte of the Virginia Parent Coalition and Karin Larsen of Virginia Virtual Academy on the tactics and strategies we can use to be more effective advocates and partners, including right now under social distancing restrictions. We closed out the day on an inspiring note as we talked with some of our partners across the movement, including Title Elvrum of the Parent Support for Online Learning Group, Peter Franzen of the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri and Emmy Henley of the Reform Alliance.
Cannot wait to see the lessons learned from this jam-packed event in action over the coming months!