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Thursday April 24, 2008
MR. HEIN: I think it's fair to say we could not have gotten off to a better start. We had an expert panel. (Applause)
MR. HEIN: Karl Zinsmeister from our first panel gave us expert opinions about the issues, and we received such inspiration from the President of the United States who says that he cares about this issue, and Americans should care about this issue. Then he gives us a call to action that engages every sector of society. This is good news. This is good news. They're paying attention to this issue.
And this panel will deliver the next step in the journey. They'll give you a voice from movement leaders and from the streets, the voice of the end user, in many respects, to this system. And we're going to begin to move forward to this multisector solution that the President asked us to pursue.
First I'd like to give you just a few quick motivations of why I'm so pleased to be in your company before I introduce these four very fine leaders. My name is Jay Hein. I direct the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. I am the son of two Wisconsin public educators. My father was a guidance counselor at our high school, and my mother was a kindergarten teacher on an Indian reservation. And they taught me the value of public education, education generally, and I was a product of public education, and I'm grateful, therefore, for President Bush's leadership to reform American public schools and Secretary Spellings' commitment to the same.
I am also the father of two sons, one who goes to a faith-based private school and one who goes to a public school. I am grateful for both of those institutions, and I am grateful that I had a choice. We picked the right school for two very different boys. I don't know how that happens. You can grow them up in the same home, and they have different needs. And I am painfully aware of what we talked about today, that not every parent has that choice, so we need to expand that choice.
I was, third, a board member of an inner city classical education school in Indianapolis, Indiana, before I joined my current post. And now I'm director of faith-based initiatives, so I understand that private faith has public value, distinctive public value. And I'm so proud to work for a President who reminds us of that and who tells me of day to day to do everything I can and our initiative can to support you in those institutions, which are very valuable.(Applause)
MR. HEIN: You're very valuable public servants, and I thank you for your service. I will now introduce each of our speakers in the order in which they will address you. And our first speaker is Phylicia Lyons, who is a very proud graduate of Reverend Floyd Flake's academic institution that he has told us about, the Allen Christian School. She is founder, president, and CEO of School Choice Illinois, which advocates for private educational opportunities for low-income children in her state. You're about to be very impressed by her.
She went on from her New York education to attend two very prestigious college and post-college institutions and now is deploying her talent on behalf of other students like herself, because she wants to extend the same opportunities to Chicago's youth that she enjoyed, thanks to the incredible sacrifice of her parents and particularly her mother after her father's passing that she'll tell you about. She's surely and example, and we're thrilled to have her. She will lead off here.
Our next panelist is the Reverend Joseph M. O'Keefe, who is dean of the Lynch School of Education of Boston College. Reverend O'Keefe is training the next generation of leaders, the administrators and teachers at Catholic institutions. He's also an esteemed academic, not of broad theory but of practical applications of education in communities, and so he has become a leading thinker and writer on the state of play that we're talking about today. So he is a scholar practitioner, and we're so honored to have him in our company.
Third we will hear from Dr. Bernard Gant, who is director of Urban School Services at the Association of Christian Schools International. Like Phylicia Lyons, Dr. Gant benefitted from high quality inner city education in a distressed environment, and he is a terrific product of such an education. And he too wants to extend that blessing to others. He has dedicated 30 years of his professional life to improving the life outcome of urban children, for the past 20 years in particular advancing urban education models.
So we're honored to have you and eager to hear what you have to say. And then the anchor of this fine panel is Virginia Walden-Ford, who happens to be the one who the President hugged right up here. She is the executive director of DC Parents for Choice and was the little engine that could behind that effort, and we are so in her debt.
I should just say very quickly that this panel is pretty excited that the President of the United States was their opening act. (Laughter)
MR. HEIN: It's really special, and they asked me if they could do the rope line after the panel get done. (Laughter)
MR. HEIN: I said, "No, we're going to have to move to the next panel." But Virginia is going to remind you of the power of the consumer's voice and what she's done to mobilize the parents here in Washington, D.C., which is a replicable strategy, and it is an unmatched strategy because when we can hear from parents themselves and hear it forcefully, systems change. Mountains move, and that's what happened here in Washington, D.C.
But she'll also tell you that not all parents are naturally inclined. They don't know that they have the right to a choice, and they oftentimes are defeated by their circumstances. It takes equipping and serving these parents, just as it does us to gather in the movement that we're enjoying each other's company and events today. So without further ado, I invite our first speaker to the podium. (Applause)
MS. LYONS: I'm excited after that first panel and hearing from the President. I'm just ready to get out there and go into Chicago and take to the streets and just take the world by storm. (Applause)
MS. LYONS: I know many of you are working out in the field. It's really been an inspiration for us to really start to move forward. So I just want to say it's a pleasure to stand before you to share my story of hope and promise and to serve on this distinguished panel. And I remember the words of Mrs. Anderson. She was my elementary school teacher, and her words resound in my ear. She said, "Oh, Phylicia, she's going to become a teacher." I can hear her say those words over and over again. "Oh she's too smart for you silly boys," she used to say to the boys who used to pick on me at school.
And since those days I have done all that I can to avoid teaching. And today I'm the founder and CEO, president of School Choice Illinois, an independent nonprofit organization that advocates for expanded kindergarten through 12th grade education throughout the state of Illinois.
Well I have to say that my elementary school teacher was not far off the mark. She, like many other teachers of mine, had this notion that we were going to become more than we could even imagine. And I'd like to think she was dead on about those silly boys, present company excluded of course.
But I'm living proof of the importance of faith-based schools and quality school options. Without the unique experience and education offered to me by my faith-based school, I can say without a doubt, I would have become yet another statistic. You see, I was raised by a young widowed mother in southeast Queens New York in the 1980s. However, 1983 has two significant meanings for me. Firstly, it marks the year America was declared a nation at risk where the standards of mediocrity were confirmed as real and pervasive in our public education system while private education really didn't face those academic challenges.
Secondly, 1983 was the year that my sister and I, ages three and five, respectively enrolled in Allen Christian School, a faith-based school founded by Reverend Dr. Floyd H. Flake, a former U.S. congressman. On this 25th year anniversary, we still face an educational crisis, and the future of many of our children hang in the balance. In fact, according to the most recent statistics, only 17 percent of Latinos and 11 percent of black public high school graduates in Illinois graduate college ready.
Additionally, we have a crisis of a different front. Most of our schools or many of our schools who historically provided some of the nation's neediest and most vulnerable children a quality education and vigorous education are on the decline. The record numbers show that faith-based schools have closed across America. From the previous statistics, they show that in Chicago, 66 of our Catholic schools have closed, and that's actually the largest number across the nation.
My faith-based school offered me more than just a comprehensive, high-quality education. We had many teachers like Mrs. Anderson who believed that I was full of hope and promise. Our teachers and administrators went above and beyond their call of duty to prepare students like myself for lifelong learning. My faith-based school offered me hope, encouragement, support, direction, purpose, refuge, and safety during my most formative years. The school was a beacon of light for our community. It was a ray of hope for a previously neglected neighborhood and a powerhouse of love, support and peace.
Faith teaching as well was such a critical element in my academic life. I learned a sense of moral discipline, self-worth and community obligation. As faith-based schools grow extinct across America, can we confidently say that the remaining schools are currently equipped to meet the educational and emotional needs of all children? Well, based on my professional and personal experiences, I can emphatically say no.
It was my faith-based elementary school experience that prepared me to excel at Catholic high school, to earn a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Virginia, to earn a master of public policy degree from the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago -- it's a long name. I've also lived, worked, and studied in western Europe and Central America. I've also contributed to the fields of public policy, telecommunications, finance, technology research, consulting, and international relations.
Our Christian school was my launching pad, and without it I would not have had the educational and emotional support I needed to succeed in life at my early age. Today because of those experiences, I am committed to fighting for equal access to quality K-12 public and private schools. I whole-heartedly believe that all children are full of hope and promise. Where they're languishing in ill-performing or ill-equipped or poor-performing schools, children need that chance to attend quality schools that will help them build a foundation for their future success in the same way it prepared me.
Instead of lamenting the disappearance of faith-based schools across America, let's take this as an opportunity to revitalize our schools with resources, financial support, and new public policies. By doing so, we will bring hope and a chance for success for all of our nation's children. What greater legacy can I leave? What greater legacy could you leave than to have our children say that we worked really hard to make equal educational opportunities a reality?
And for the child who cannot vote, for the child who cannot write a check to a political campaign or a special interest membership organization, for the child whose parents are just working to make sure there's food on the table or to keep the lights on, for the child who's being raised by a single parent, we must stand up. We must speak up. (Applause)
It's our turn to act on their behalf. I see these children. I see America's children as chief executive officers of billion-dollar companies, as innovators of new medical technologies, as scientists, attorneys, and teachers. I too see our children negotiating peace treaties and even as future presidential hopefuls. When you see what I see, no cost is too high, no battle too hard, nor a journey too long for the pursuit of access to quality education for all.
Whether it's tuition tax credits, vouchers, tax-supported scholarships, competitive teacher salaries, or a combination of all these different public policies befitting each state or city, today is the day we must say, first, thank you to the education pioneers. And then we must say yes to the work ahead of us, and we must say yes to giving every child a chance. Every one of our nation's children deserves a chance. I believe that. They all deserve a chance. I sure did. Thank you. (Applause)
REVEREND O'KEEFE: Good morning. I'm delighted to continue this conversation. I want to talk about Catholic schools in the inner city today, and certainly I think we all see the need for innovation, for new solutions, because we've seen the sad result of inertia. When that does not happen, these inner city schools perish. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I think we are at a great moment of opportunity.
Now, first of all, we have to say this. This is a legacy that is certainly worth saving. We heard about the Blaine Amendment. We heard about the origins of many of these urban Catholic schools that were, as Bishop McQuaid said, protective fortresses for young Catholic children. The Catholic population from these urban centers has experienced unprecedented upward mobility by any number of socioeconomic indicators and also an outward mobility away from those geographic neighborhoods to the suburbs and exurbs and also away from the Northeast and the Midwest to the growth of the South and the West.
Replacing them were immigrants and migrants from -- African-Americans from the South to our urban centers. And one of things that became evident for those schools that did stay open, they were remarkably effective in serving the new population, just as they were effective in serving the old population. Now, through the '80s there were a large number of closings and into the '90s. And I looked at those closings, the pattern of closings in the mid '90s and then decided someone has to look at those who stayed open. What do we know about these inner city schools?
So we decided to do a survey of inner city schools to collect baseline data about these institutions. And nothing is more helpful, I think, in national planning than empirical data about what's happening on the ground. And you can see the kind of issues that we looked at in our study that was done in 2000, 2001 of 384 Catholic inner city schools around the country.
Now, sadly -- and I'll get back to this, 25 percent of those schools are now closed. And we're embarking on a study to look at where these schools close, but especially this summer and into next year we'll be doing a study at Boston College about how schools stayed open and beat the odds, because we certainly need to learn from one another.
Let me talk about these inner city schools in three ways. I want to talk first about students, then about staffing, and then about structure. In regard to students, I think the most important issues that I want to raise is that these schools were easy to get into and difficult to get thrown out of. And very often what we hear is the impact of faith-based schools is not due to the schools themselves but rather is due to the self-selection by parents whose children are bound for success anyway, a kind of elitism within the inner city only serving those, creaming the top if you will.
So certainly I think we need look at the schools and to say that we serve the same population as the public schools, in the Catholic schools especially. I think it's important to mention that 34 percent of my sample were not Catholic, and I would imagine it will increase. But also no one had looked at who the non-Catholics are, by and large African-American Protestants. And I think there's an important ecumenical dimension to these schools that we need to pay close attention to.
As I said, open admission and high retention. It's not an elite group. However the most important dimension is for all of them very high aspiration. High aspirations come from high expectations, and I think that is a hallmark of all the schools that we are talking about today. Certainly Tony Bryk and others have mentioned this. High expectation, a demand curriculum for everyone, a belief that every child can succeed, and that is an important hallmark of these schools.
Let me talk to you a little bit about staffing. And we have some significant challenges because when we look at teacher recruit and retention, by and large it is a picture of a revolving door of younger teachers and older teachers who struggle, given the financial difficulties, the low salaries, the insufficient health care plans, the insufficient retirement plans.
And so as a result what we need to do is really look at adequate compensation certainly for teachers across the country in all sectors, but especially in these faith-based schools. We had mentioned certainly the sisters and the brothers and the religious. You know, the Catholic community for years resourced its schools through human beings, lifelong volunteers called sisters, women religious who've done a remarkable job in lifting up the Catholic population and others who work in our schools.
And certainly when we look at the demographics that we saw at the outset today, that is a pool of volunteers that no longer exists in significant numbers. And for those that do like myself as a Jesuit, I need to earn a full salary because I have a lot of older brothers that I need to take care of. That's the demographic of religious life. When we look at the principals, for example, of these schools, 40 percent of them are women religious, generally they're in their 60s with a high level of education, lots of experience, but who worked for a stipend. There are real staffing challenges.
One of the other notable features was the lack of professionals other than teachers and administrators within these schools. Now, I'm not for bloating up a bureaucracy, but I think it is important that we have to look at the diverse needs of which shall in these schools and to seek the kind of professional care very often that they need. Now some of that was filled -- the importance of volunteerism, and the President talked about volunteerism and how that is a hallmark of these schools. However, I think we need to do that in a more systematic way.
Let's take a look at the structure of these schools. Now, by and large very traditional. You know, it's no longer a sister with 60 students, but much of it remains the same, and there's a real advantage that these schools have been immune from kind of the fad du jour stuff that happens in education. However, there have been some significant changes. First, the growth of the early childhood sector, and we know that we need to start with very young children if they are to be bound for education success.
We know that given the dynamics of family that the traditional school day, the traditional school year doesn't work anymore. Extended time -- we know we have real challenges in faith-based school often driven by budgets, a digital divide. And we know that to prepare leaders for the mid 21st century, which is our vocation and call, will require a technological savvy that often we haven't been able to provide.
One of the emerging features I think that's important, even if we make it through our operating budgets, half the schools that I surveyed were built before 1926. We have enormous capital expenses that loom ahead of us even if we make it through our operating budget.
Finally, a lot of the issues that I mention in here, the diverse needs of kids, the various issues -- the schools that succeed are the schools that learn how to collaborate. It can't be the school by itself. Collaborate with a variety of community agencies to make the school functional and viable.
Now sadly, since this study was done, elementary school enrollment in Catholic schools has declined by 24.7 in the 12 urban dioceses, clearly reflective also of my sample. And you can see the number of children who don't have the opportunities they should have. It is a crisis, but there are signs of hope. Certainly the Nativity San Miguel and Cristo Rey -- and we'll be hearing about that from B.J. Cassin later -- and also the kinds of restructuring.
Again, it's innovate or perish. The decoupling often of schools an parishes that can no longer support the school and finding new arrangements that are much more engaging of the entire Catholic community and the entire community beyond the church itself. Looking at consortium arrangements that are so crucial. Looking at collaboration with health care providers, with social service providers. Collaborating with public schools. One of the most important things we need to do is to stress time and time again that we are all committed to children in our inner cities no matter what kind of school they're in, and they have to have faith-based schools as an alternative. (Applause)
And finally, you know, I often say one of the great strengths of faith-based schools is their autonomy. The great weakness of faith-based schools is their autonomy. Too much reinvention of the wheel. We need to learn how to replicate. And certainly trying to do that, in 2003, 2006, 2008 Boston College with the National Catholic Educational Association is bringing together the best programs in the country that serve inner city kids, what we call our endangered species within the Catholic church.
This too is looking at design for success, new configurations of Catholic schools that offer tremendous hope. So replication is important, and certainly, as the President said, that's much of what we are doing here today.
Finally, how to move forward. It's all about innovation, entrepreneurial leadership, bold, courageous decisions. And, you know, sometimes in the Catholic community we need to look back to our founders and at other faith-based communities too. In early days that weren't the heydays of the '60s, but these were pioneers. And often they embarked upon ventures that never worked, but they kept going, and they kept trying, and they kept courage with very few people, with very few resources, but they were fueled by a mission that they would not surrender, and we need to do the same thing. (Applause)
REFEREND O'KEEFE: We need to collaborate, public sector, private sector. Thank God one of the things Catholic universities are starting to work together. There's a wake-up call for us to serve faith-based schools, and we're doing that together. Sustained philanthropy certainly is crucial for us. You know, it used to be bake sales and bingo. Now it's estate planning and capital campaigns. There has to be much more sophistication for sustained philanthropy.
And then finally, we need to imagine a new public support for faith-based schools. Professor Glenn certainly outlined for us our situation within the world, just completed a work last year looking at 34 countries around the world that have Catholic schools. There are other ways to do this than we have done traditionally, and the days to have Blaine Amendment should be in the oast. We have an exciting future, and let's work together.(Applause)
DR. GANT: Good morning. I was so inspired and excited by the President's presentation to hear that his passion -- I almost shouted out "Yes, we can." But I was sitting close to the Secret Service. (Applause)
DR. GANT: I didn't want to take that chance. Eight years ago this month I had the high honor to be hired by the Association of Christian schools International to start and give leadership to a department of urban school services that would focus upon those schools throughout our membership that target and serve children living in our urban centers, the under-resourced, child the minority child, that child who was socially, academically at risk, these schools that had started as centers of hope to say to the children in a very evangelistic way, in its truest sense opening their doors and saying, "Whosoever will may come" and providing these children with a quality education.
And we spell quality A-B-C. An education that is academically excellent, Bible-based, and character-shaped. These schools that were offering to these parents the kind of hope that perhaps the parents themselves had not realized. And my wife and I had the opportunity to start two such schools in Birmingham where we were living at that time. And after that we saw that what we were facing locally in Birmingham was really a national phenomenon that these were the children who for whatever the reason the systems just were not working, and their life chances were slim to none.
And we were absolutely convinced that these schools would offer these children again kind of an invention is that children living in darkness would see a great light, and they would have hope. And so we came and started this program so that we could serve parents like the letter that we received when we were providing tuition assistance. It was a mother, a single mom who became a mother at 14, grew up in the public housing. Her mother, like her, had become a mother when she was a young teen. She said her mother never even finished grade school. And now this mother had three children living in public housing sending them to one of our most dismal performing school districts in the nation.
Of the 78 schools in this particular urban school district, 64 were under academic probation. But this mother somehow managed to be able to get an apartment so she could move to another district and put her children in this school because she believed that education was the key to their success. It was the hope for her children.
But when she put them there, she said she discovered that her 14-year-old, who was going into the 9th grade, had to be placed in special education. And she said, "But he was doing so well. I don't understand. What happened?" And she said -- and then describing the pain that she felt as she had to explain to this young fellow why he had to go into different classes and why he had to be labeled as such. But she said she was willing to do it for her children, whatever it took.
And then she wrote, "Can you imagine the pain I felt when I lost the apartment and had to move into the projects and put my children into the same school, the same system that had failed them?" And she was so grateful, she said, to learn of the scholarship that we were offering so that she could put her children in a Christian school, a school that would make a difference in the lives of her children.
And her letter reminded me so much of my own story. I also was born in public housing in the projects in Mobile, Alabama. And while I was working on my doctorate, I was doing a history of faith-based schools that served minority children in the inner cities and in the rural areas when the public schools were not either available to them or would not work for them.
And so I called my mother in Mobile, Alabama at that time. And I said, "Mama, didn't we start out in a private school?"
And my mother -- you could hear it in her voice saying "Oh, yes." She said, "All of you did." I had four brothers. She said, "Faith Lutheran Academy." She still had the little school pictures that we took. She said, "As a matter of fact, your oldest brother graduated from the Lutheran school."
I said, "Well, why did you do that?"
She said, "Well, you've got to understand the one public school that you could attend in Mobile, Alabama, at the time in the 50s, because of the laws of segregation, the one public school that you could attend was in such terrible condition I was determined that you would not go to that school because," she said, "I believed that an education was the way out of the projects. And I was determined that my boys were going to get a good education." This is from a mother who herself had only been afforded an 8th grade education.
"But," I said, "we were living in the projects. Didn't it cost you? How could you afford that?"
And the next statement my mother made as I hung up the phone fighting back the tears, moved me so deeply that right there I prayed. I said, "Father, if it pleases you, allow me to spend the rest of my life doing this."
Because my mother said, "Oh, yes, it cost me. Why do you think I was leaving the house every day to go clean other people's houses? I was determined that my boys were going to get a good education." She further said, "None of my boys were going to grow up to be ditch diggers." This mother sounds like so many other mothers that I've heard. Despite their circumstances, despite their conditions, only want something better for their children and this firm belief that that better is through a quality education.
And to see these schools being closed at the level, at the rates at which they're closing, to see these centers of hope disappearing reminds me of the Hebrew writer who said, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." And I ask the question, if the deferred hope sickens the heart, what happens to a heart where there's no hope? Thank you. (Applause)
MS. WALDEN-FORD: Hello. I am so happy to be here, and I want to tell you I won't wash my face today. Jay kissed me. In the '50s I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. I'm one of five girls. As Vernard said he was one of five boys, I'm one of five girls of public school teachers, so my whole life has been about education.
Like Phylicia, I tried to get as far away from it as I could because I know how hard my parents struggled to raise us and to instill in us how important education was. And I wanted money, you know, so I was going to get a big job working somewhere and show off the rest of the world. But I kept becoming pulled back into education. I mean I'd look around and I'd see my friend's children struggling through school. And then when I had my own family I saw my own children struggling.
I was very blessed because my two older children were really gifted or driven or whatever and were able to navigate through the public school system that was really troubling in Washington, D.C. And they found mentors and programs and all kinds of things.
But with my third child, he was a victim. He became a victim of everything bad that you hear about in D.C., all the stereotypes, you know. He was not particularly academically driven. He's smart but, you know, he'd rather play ball and ride his bike than go to school. He was one of those kinds of kids that was argumentive, and, you know, got in trouble sometimes in school, actually got in trouble a lot in school. And, you know, people would say, "He's a bad kid."
And I would say, "No, he's not a bad kid. He needs to be challenged more." The joke in our family is that -- and my mother did say this to me.
She said, "Honey, you'd better stay alive, because nobody will take William and raise him." (Laughter)
MS. WALDEN-FORD: And I thought what a terrible thing, but it was a joke. (Laughter)
MS. WALDEN-FORD: But kind of true. But when he was 13, we were living in D.C. I was raising three kids as a single parent. And I was given a gift of a scholarship for William to attend any school in the D.C. that I chose. And I chose Archbishop Carroll Catholic High School because I really wanted him in an environment of faith. I wanted him somewhere where he would be protected, and it changed our lives.
Every time he walks in the door and I see him, I realize how fortunate I was, because raising children in the mean streets of D.C. is tough, and there are so many obstacles of children of color, especially males. And so when he walks in the door now and kisses me on the cheek, I'm grateful that he's still here.
Well, this delight in my family gave me an opportunity to look at my life and say, "What can I do to help?" Other people need to be able to experience this kind of joy, to see their child just do well. And I was blessed to be able to found DC Parents for School Choice, which is a clearinghouse organization for primarily low-income families to get education information. And it was fun. It was great working with the parents.
And then in 2003 when we thought we could get a scholarship program passed in D.C. -- at least I thought it we could get a scholarship program passed in D.C. -- we began to organize parents. And we started listening to their stories about how their children were dying in the streets and how they never knew how many kids would come home in the evening because the radio said -- and actually, I still react to this. The radio says black male was killed somewhere or a black girl was killed somewhere, and I still call my kids to make sure they're okay, even though they're adults now, because it's terrifying. You know, it's scary, and the schools weren't protecting them. We were hearing as much about violence inside the schools as we were anywhere else.
Well, once the scholarship program was implemented -- passed and was implemented, I also had the privilege of working with parents to find schools. What we found is that many of them were choosing faith-based schools. We were encouraging them to go to the other schools, and they really, really were choosing on a large scale Catholic schools in their communities. And that's -- and the reason they were choosing those schools was because they believed two things. One, they would get a quality education, and two, God was in the house and would protect them, and they believed that very strongly.
And I remember we thought about it, and we talked about it, but I never became so clear to me as when we were converting some schools in Washington from Catholic schools in Washington to charter schools. And some groups of parents asked us to come talk with them about it and what that meant and what charter schools would do.
We went -- my sister and I went together. We went armed with information about charter schools and how the conversion would be okay and that they would get the same kind of quality education and, you know, lists of schools, thinking that that's what they wanted. But what they really wanted was somebody to help them understand what they were going to do if their children weren't in faith faith-based schools, if their children were not protected by having a spiritual base.
You know, one mother told me that she had lost one son to the streets of D.C. and now her surviving son -- she wanted to keep him where he'd be safe, where he'd be taught about character and, you know, all those things that he needed to survive, she thought, in the streets. You know, she was convinced that the public schools could not do that for him. You know, so she's -- or a charter school could not do that for him, and that was disturbing.
And then we began to listen to other parents, and they were telling similar stories about how they really wanted their children in faith-based schools, you know. Another mother who had been educated in a Christian school said she had five kids, and they were all in a Christian school in D.C. and that, you know, she picked that school because it was faith-based, even though she had to take two buses and the subway with her five babies to get there.
So I mean in D.C., in a place where so much violence and so many tragedies happen to children, this is a place where they can find peace. You know I remember William coming out of school the first two or three weeks, and I said to him, "Why are you being so good?" You know, "I mean you haven't been if trouble. Nobody's called to have me come get you."
And he said, "The people at the school care whether I learn or not. They care about me. They call me William, not 'hey you.' I feel safe." You know that was important to him, and he was a 13-year-old boy who seldom spoke that much, so you know this is what families are getting.
Last night I was actually left the reception to go to parent meeting, and the meeting was held at a Catholic school here in D.C. And when I walked in, parents were really excited and anxious to get started and talk to me about our legislative effort that's coming up to fight for reauthorization of our scholarship program as president. And, you know, I was tired. And as much as I love them, I was kind of ready to go home. Let me speak and go home.
And they got caught up, and they were testifying, and the spirit was in the room. And I got caught up and because the place was jumping. This is what we need. You know, we need for our children to be in environments, especially in cities like D.C., where most of these kids leave school and go home and don't go out to play because there's too much violence outdoors.
So we as parent organizers or parent organizations -- you know, we support everybody in trying to maintain these schools and trying to encourage people to get out and make sure that they survive, because I'll tell you from what I hear from people out in the field and what I hear from the parents, if we don't have this option for parents and children, it is going to change the direction of their lives. If they have to go back into public schools, it will impact who they become, you know.
So we really want -- as we move forward, we want to do everything we can to assist faith-based organizations who are running schools, the Catholic church who is running schools, and make sure that we stand beside them and continue. We are so blessed that we have a President that cares about this issue. You know, I mean he's always been supportive of the D.C. program, but to hear him up here this morning talking about how important this issue was to him inspired me to go on. It made me feel that I can't stop until we make sure that this issue is addressed.
And he -- like Phylicia, he excited me. Like Vernard, he excited me. We all here care about what's happens to these families. We are warriors on this stage, and we will continue to go on and fight the good fight, and we will have our children in faith-based schools. (Applause)
MR. HEIN: Thank you so much. Thank you for your words and your inspiration. Thank you even more so for the way you serve real people in real time in real communities. The President did call us to action. He called us multi-sector solutions, as I referenced earlier in my remarks. But as government officials and as philanthropists and as business leaders, we can't effectively deploy solutions unless we understand what it looks like in those communities and on the street. And you've provided that for us today, and we appreciate your service so very much.
We need to be very purposeful now as we do lunch because just a couple minutes late. And we need to turn our attention to lunch quick, and then we need to get back for a panel led by Secretary Spellings and other officials that are going to help us think through what city governments look like and how we can deploy these strategies now in cities along -- in partnership with local officials.
So please enjoy each other's company, but so quick, and get back in your seats for a terrific afternoon. Thank you very much.
(Lunch plenary and recess from 12:09 to 1:50 p.m.)