An Unexpected Ally

Harrison Clark
Harrison Clark of the U.S. Department of Education reviews a packet of Mackinac Center materials at an educational choice conference in Detroit. The Department of Education is now disseminating Mackinac Center publications at grassroots education summits nationwide.

(The following article first appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of Impact.)

It seems unlikely that an institute that rejects government money and highlights school choice would find its materials disseminated by the U.S. Department of Education. But Mackinac Center publications are being spread by the federal agency to grassroots educational choice supporters throughout the country thanks to an encounter at a church in downtown Detroit.

It began last November when Dr. Ryan S. Olson, the Center’s director of education policy, was invited to speak at a November conference titled "Building Community Through Common Unity." Olson was part of a lineup that included comedian Bill Cosby and an assistant secretary of education. Olson delivered stirring remarks to an audience of pastors, community leaders and school choice proponents at Detroit’s Tried Stone Baptist Church.

Olson was frequently interrupted by shouts of "amen" as he explained the current failure of the public school system to live up to the ideal of public education, which is that all children should have access to a high-quality education. He described the Center’s universal education tax credit proposal, an idea that was met with enthusiasm.

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Prior to his remarks, Olson distributed a number of Mackinac Center publications, including monographs on issues such as school choice, character and leadership, and an Op-Ed he had written for the Detroit Free Press about education tax credits and the importance of parental choice in education.

Following his speech, Olson was approached by Harrison L. Clark, Associate Director for Outreach for the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Education. Clark asked if the agency could distribute two of the monographs — "Choice Leadership: The Story of Two Women" and "The Inspiring Story of Thomas Clarkson: A Student’s Essay that Changed the World" — at its nationwide conferences on education innovations and parental choice.

As a result, the Department of Education is distributing both pieces at "Regional Summits on Innovations in Education: Empowering the Grassroots with Educational Options." At the Northeast Region summit in Newark — attended by school choice supporters from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — hundreds of Mackinac Center monographs were displayed and, according to Clark, all were taken.