The Movie “Miss Virginia” Powerfully Dramatizes the Urgent Need for School Choice

The Movie “Miss Virginia” Powerfully Dramatizes the Urgent Need for School Choice

What’s it like to have your life story
told on the big screen? Sir when you said—I say a lot of things, I’m a politician. So what you did so that low-income students could go to private schools? Well I want to do that here. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting that done. The new movie, Miss Virginia, tells the unlikely story of Virginia Walden Ford, who as a single mother in Washington D.C. in the early 2000’s fought to create a federally funded private school voucher program that would allow poor kids, including her son, to escape failing public schools. Against long odds and institutional hostility, she succeeded, and is played with fiery passion by “Orange is the New Black” Uzo Abduba. Every time she says, “my name is Virginia Walden,” I freak out. I just go, “Oh my gosh she’s using my name!” That kind of silliness. So I’m…it’s surreal. I never ever thought that anybody would even notice our fight. So it also is humbling. You know, I mean we were a ragtag group of parents going up on the hill talking to members of Congress to help save our kids. And so it’s it’s surreal and unreal to me. What in your experience with the D.C. Public Schools and your son what was the essential thing that they were failing him by? I think he was just one of those kids who’s just gonna fall through the cracks you know if somebody didn’t intervene. I remember going to school one day to talk to a teacher about a class that he had said he was having trouble with and she didn’t even know who he was. She had 40 kids in her class. Walden Ford’s own backstory as a student is both harrowing and inspirational. She was among the early waves of black kids that integrated public schools in Little Rock Arkansas in the late 1950s, an experience that informed her actions as a parent. I remember my dad saying you’re going to Central. And I’m like oh no I’m not. I’m going to the black high school. And he told me you have a responsibility to go to Central and do well, because you have younger siblings and the world will look at you based on the fact that you paved the way for for your younger siblings. And even at 14, I was 14, I took that really seriously. And I really believe my parents were people that serve the community and I remember thinking that’s someone—I want to make a difference. So at 14 I knew that I was going to do things that would make a difference, that I was going to serve my community. But it was based on my parents, my grandfather was a slave who bought his brothers out of slavery, and ran a bakery in Little Rock. That’s how he raised the money. And in knowing that I had that kind of legacy in my family certainly impacted who I am and who my sisters are. But service was a big deal. When Daddy got the job at Little Rock’s School District, he was the first black assistant superintendent for Little Rock’s School District. You know the Klan burned a cross in our yard, they threw rocks through our windows, and I remember my dad saying, you know, don’t be mad, change the world. There’s a bit of irony in that as a child as a young person you fought for access to the public schools, as a parent you were fighting for the right of exit from the public school system. What’s the consistent throughline in those actions? In both actions we’re fighting for quality education. During civil rights movement, when we were trying to get into public schools it was not to get in the building, it was to get what was in the building. We were taught with books there were oftentimes out-of-date. Science labs where 20 kids would use one microscope. Or, those kinds of things, that really keep kids from getting what they really need. Separate but equal was a lie. Exactly. When schools started changing and deteriorating, I remember saying this is not acceptable. Actually I send speeches all the time to African Americans, I know why you mad about it coming out of public schools and stuff I know how you felt. I was there. But, do you really want our kids to stay in bad schools? You know because we fought 60 years ago to get in another building? That’s not what we want. So you gotta get it in your head, this is something different. I remember telling Ted Kennedy one time, your brothers fought for us to get into traditional public schools, and why are you fighting against us getting out of these same schools because they’re bad? Now those up on the hill, they said we would fail. They say that we all don’t care about our
kids. But they could not be more wrong. One of the most persistent and paternalistic criticisms of parental empowerment in education is that poor, uneducated parents simply don’t have the background or the intelligence to make informed decisions for their kids.
Walden Ford is having none of that. Every time we went to a meeting in the
communities that we were serving, which were low income communities in Washington, I would ask Q&A you know we’d do a Q&A, and I would say what do you want for your child? Low-income parents will come there with lists of what they wanted for their children. And they were articulate and passionate, and it was amazing to hear them speak about what their desires were, and what they would hope for their children if their children an opportunity to go to a school that served them well. What’s the basic metric of a successful school in a choice environment for you? When you walk into a school and kids are smiling, and they’re engaged, and they’re safe, and parents are involved, that’s a key to a successful school. And they have the equipment and library. So that kind of stuff is more important than test scores or—you know I think you do have to test kids. I mean I think you have to determine where they are and what they need to learn, but I think they you can’t define their whole existence by test scores. I think there are a lot of things that go along with that. With the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, in their initial years the fact that kids were safe and their parents were happy, and they were graduating at 20% above the rate of D.C. Public Schools that was way more important than test scores. They were going on. You know people never did understand it when our kids went into those schools they were behind. So they had to catch up. And so test scores in the early years for some time are just not correct. And those same kids were —William graduated, he graduated valedictorian. But in D.C. public school his test scores were three or four levels below wherever whatever grade he was in. I used to have to fight him to go to school I dropped him off at school he’d leave. I would drive away and he’d just be gone. I get a call from school saying he wasn’t there. But when he was moved to a private school he liked it, he liked going there, he would jump up and get ready for school and I asked him why are you acting like that? Okay I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. When are you gonna do something silly? And he’d say Mama—and thirteen year olds don’t talk like this, but he said Mama for the first time in my life I believe that others care about me learning other than you. Walden Ford is adamant that partisan politics not get in the way of helping children. She acknowledges that having Donald Trump support school choice is a good thing for the movement, even as it possibly makes reform harder to sell among blacks and Latinos. She’s equally dismayed that none of the leading Democratic candidates for president has embraced school choice. She’s especially troubled by senator Cory Booker who as mayor of Newark, New Jersey was a strong proponent of education reform. I am constantly disappointed every time I read something, especially from Corey, because I know him well. And I know what a big supporter he was. What’s so easy to say, and I’m a Democrat, and it’s so easy for us to say, they just need more money. I mean that is that’s the most wrongheaded way of thinking about education these days. It’s not just about more money, it’s about a result, it’s about achievement, it’s about how we’re delivering that education, and the choices we’re giving our parents. To me it’s disappointing and that’s why I think this is the best time ever for this film to come out. Because what I’m seeing is a lot of people that are supporting people that oppose school choice to get elected. And that really concerns me. If we don’t figure out how to get everybody on the same page about educating children, this country is going to be a mess anyway. Now poor kids have just as much of a right to learn as rich ones, However the 2020 election plays out or even how the school choice movement evolves, Walden Ford is emphatic that “Miss Virginia,” the movie version of her life, has a message that needs to be clearly understood and embraced. You know, you have every right to look at your child and determine where he will best be taught, and that’s what I want parents to take away. You don’t have to sit back and just take it. At the end of the day this movie certainly is my story but it’s any parent’s story. It’s every parent’s story, who ever fought for their children, so it honors the parents.

44 thoughts on “The Movie “Miss Virginia” Powerfully Dramatizes the Urgent Need for School Choice

  • Or the fact that public education should be overwatched and funded more than anything. Whites cant chose or start white only colleges… Why segregate yourself willingly? Unless you are already a racist person

  • The teachers union is fighting the school of choice programs and charter schools, not because they want to help kids, but because it will take money away from them. It’s time we, as a Country, demand privatization of our school systems!

  • This woman is amazing! I'd love to spend a few hours with her just to hear her life stories. I have to see the movie now, even though I'm sure they embellished the events.

  • Yea because bussing a kid to a school a hour away or the parent forced to dive them that time and distance is good for the carbon footprint.

  • Democrats getting paid off by a school board?
    NO WAY, Democrats care for minorities. Just look into Jim Crow laws, the Klan, Brown versus the Board of Education.

  • I remember being bused into inner city schools in Louisville in the early 70's. Guess what they did to us. Made us brush with concentrated fluoride. Look up fluoride and what it does to humans. WW2, prisons. It tempers populations. The highlight was meeting Mohammed Ali. Some of his nieces and nephews went to my school in 3rd grade.

  • I live in a famously 'progressive' town. The Progressives Progtards here spent months last year shooting down a proposed charter school because they feared it wasn't on board with the marxist/72 gender/hormone — their social agenda overshadowed all academic concerns. They become more and more authoritarian with each passing year. Denying choice in education . . . sorry, but anyone that does that is an asshole.

  • I don’t see how the average tax payer has any obligation to support a specific group’s education. The education topic is very simple. Go to school, get good grades, get a scholarship, chose a useful degree that will get you hired and pay well after college. Bam, life is set.

    The problem with education isn’t that it’s broken, it’s that parents of lazy/stupid kids blame outside factors for their kids’ underachieving or getting useless degrees like marketing or psychology and then not being able to get a decently paying job to pay off their debts/ lead a comfortable life.

  • I worked in the public schools for 10 years in a non union state. It just really blew my mind that no matter if the teacher was left or right the opposed charter schools and school choice. What I learned is that many don’t care about the child getting the best education possible wherever it may be. They just don’t want to lose money. More money wouldn’t have made the schools better.

  • The first thing Obama did in office was to get rid of the charter schools. Because we can't have black children learn, they must be indoctrinated in Marxist theory

  • Why didn't she just ask for tutoring services for the school? All schools can benefit from a math lab. Or why not lobby for mandatory TAs in the classroom to provide one-on-one attention to those kids that need additional support?
    In California we have required English Learner classes for non-english speaking children and free English classes for their parents, and that is working.

  • Her dad sounds like someone with a lot of wisdom and a good soul. And thank you Virginia for fighting the good fight. Loved this episode ❤️😍💙

  • She’s such a fascinating lady. I’m gonna check her movie out. We need to spread better ideas for our education. I don’t think vouchers are the best way, I would like a tax specifically for public school parents to fund schools, it has many ideas we should apply to fix the system.

  • Gee. What a novel idea. A black father having a powerful positive impact on his black daughter who in turn has a powerful positive impact on the black community — as she fights what is essentially the Leftist Educational (Indoctrination) Complex to get a school voucher system in place in her community. Shocker.

  • Democrats can't allow school choice. There are certain classes of citizen they need to keep under their thumb.
    Being educated and informed doesn't help the Democrats cause.

  • But the unvaccinated in NY can't send there children to any school they need school choices too. How about vaccine free schools or some fully vaccinated schools some mixed and we leave it to the parents to decide what educational environment is best for there kids.

  • I can't help but think that this kinda feels like the Libertarian equivalent of a Christian flick. The 5.2 IMDb score doesn't help, either.

  • "a single mother in Washington, DC"

    The real problem is her for denying her children the father they deserve to have. Her children grew up poor, going to terrible schools because of HER poor life choices.

  • What a magnificent story and a great hero. What ever happened to that Cory Booker? This happens to whites in public schools too.

  • If my mom didn't speak up for me when I in was entering 1st I would have been stuck in special ed most of my elementary school career. Instead she homeschooled us and we all ended up with college degrees even though my mom bearly had collage herself. When you love your kids you're going to do whatever it takes to get them there.

  • Intervening on behalf of your own child in school what a revolutionary idea!
    "They says that we don't care about our children " more of them get thorn to pieces at mothers request!

  • The Democrats' abandonment of the school choice movement isn't that surprising. As national politics continues to polarize it will become more and more difficult to find Democrats who support ideas outside of the progressive box.

    What's worse is that Democrats are starting to abandon even lip service to issues they're allegedly supposed to be good on. Free speech, and skepticism of foreign intervention have suffered a decline of support among Democrats.

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