Left to right: Amy Dunlap; Jessie Bagos and her twin boys; Jill Hile and her daughter; Lynn Aronoff
As many Michigan parents are fed up with what schooling has to offer, our two groups work together to give them tools to convert their frustration into more education options.
PACE, or Parent Advocates for Choice in Education, emerged in late 2019, responding to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto that selectively denied extra funding to charter school students. We built relationships with school leaders and parents in Flint — where school choice has made a difference for some — to share stories that showed how the governor’s actions disrespected parents’ choices and harmed students.
Once Gov. Whitmer withdrew the veto and the threat dissipated, it was difficult to keep parents engaged. Yet subsequent events captured their attention in ways we never could.
As the COVID pandemic shut down in-school instruction, our organizations jointly produced a video series to help Michigan parents get the most out of learning at home. Many school districts had turned one difficult year into another, offering only ineffective remote instruction. Even after schools reopened, some communicated poorly with families.
The time had come to think big and act boldly by launching the Let Kids Learn initiative. Its goal: Empower families to access an unprecedented range of education options. PACE has played a crucial role in that work.
Even after a groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2020 broke down many states’ barriers to expanding choice, Michigan remains an outlier. Its 50-year-old constitutional provision still bars public support of private schooling options. PACE joined five families as a plaintiff in the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation’s lawsuit to challenge that provision in federal court. Both groups backed legislation to give thousands of families control of tax credit-funded K-12 savings accounts, which once again brought out the governor’s veto pen.
The Mackinac Center provides intellectual ammunition and thought leadership, and makes connections. PACE, meanwhile, builds trusting relationships with diverse grass roots coalitions. They include families of disabled students at wits end over schools’ failure to deliver services, suburban parents upset about restrictive public health mandates, and inner-city moms banding together to venture into homeschooling.
Our partnership operates in a broader circle of national groups like the American Federation for Children, parent-organizing counterparts in other states, and Michigan’s broader school choice coalition. PACE continues to gather stories and train advocates. It also has added a team member to coordinate Lansing’s big National School Choice Week celebration.
As our cooperative efforts grow, so do Michigan parents’ hopes for their children’s opportunities and success.