School Choice Is the Most Critical Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

It's the modern extension of Brown v. Board of Education.

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Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy and an MSNBC political analyst.

Remember those commercials in which people would be blindfolded and asked to try a product and then say which one they thought tasted the best? Inevitably, the people in the commercials would taste the bargain item and say they liked it better than the fancy stuff, thus proving that it doesn't have to be expensive or elite to be good.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite our leaders to put on a blindfold, taste this issue and tell me does it really matter whether it's liberal or conservative.

First, it gives parents the right to choose what's best for their child.

Second, it ensures the possibility of achieving the American dream by giving all children the same chance at a bright, productive, and prosperous future.

Third, it promotes inclusion, integration and tolerance.

It is the most critical civil rights issue of our time, an extension of Brown v. Board of Education, only today, at issue is the egregious separation of students from poor neighborhoods from students in wealthy neighborhoods.

The issue of which I speak is school choice, and I think you'll be surprised to learn that, when we get down to the facts, Americans of every stripe imaginable can agree: choice is a good thing.

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All of us want the best education possible for our children. Some of us have the means to live in neighborhoods with exceptional public schools. But so many Americans do not. According to the U.S. Department of Education, as of 2008 more than 1700 "dropout factories"--or high schools in which less than 60 percent of students graduate--exist. The students who drop out are overwhelmingly African-American and Latino. They are trapped in schools that, from early in their education, keep moving them from grade to grade without giving them the skills and knowledge necessary to become successful adults.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama reminded Americans that education begins at home and that it's a parent's responsibility to instill a love of learning in their children as well as making sure "the TV is turned off and homework gets done." This is absolutely true, but a parents' ability to influence his or her child's education cannot stop in the home.

As a nation, we have a moral obligation to make sure that all parents have the legal right to put their children in the school that believes that all children can learn and has a proven track record helping children thrive. If we don't do this, we risk creating a permanent underclass of uneducated, unemployable Americans. This would be the end of American exceptionalism.

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It is for this reason that I joined a coalition of more than 150 organizations from the right, from the left, and in the center, to spotlight last month's National School Choice Week. We are shining a spotlight on this issue and reaching out to communities across the country to teach them how to advocate for the future of every child. The week was only the beginning though. We will continue to espouse the critical need for parents to have educational options for their children.

This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, it's an American issue, and, quite possibly, the only bipartisan issue we have left.

If individuals and groups from across the ideological spectrum can come together for this cause, don't you think our politicians should be able to put politics aside, put that blindfold on, and taste what's best for America's children as well?