Together With IJ, I Fought for My Kids’ Futures

August 1, 2002

August 2002

Together With IJ, I Fought for My Kids’ Futures

By Roberta Kitchen

When I heard the news, a sense of relief washed over me. For five years, I’ve fought for the right to educate my children as I choose. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court vindicated that right, ruling that the Cleveland school choice program that allows my daughter a chance at a good education is constitutional.

These are worries I never thought would be mine. When a family friend living on the streets strung out on drugs and alcohol asked me to take in her three children, I did. A few years later, two more babies arrived. Seemingly overnight I had become a single mother of five, and I had to find a way to educate them, to give them a chance to break the cycle of poverty and despair into which they had been born. I didn’t take the kids just to lose them.

The public schools in the Collinwood section of Cleveland, infested with drugs and crime, were not an answer, although I’ve tried them. Tiffany, my eldest, was promoted to the sixth grade, despite not being able to read. There are strict quotas for promoting children in the public schools, I was told. People say to be patient, the system will get better. But which of my babies am I supposed to sacrifice, because it won’t be in time for them?

With five children, money was a barrier to escaping the public schools. I went from private school to private school, asking about tuition assistance and everything else. I became a beggar for my children. I took on a second job, but without enough time to care for my children, I was forced to quit. I offered my clerical skills in exchange for reduced tuition, anything to get my kids into a good school. It was the lowest point of my whole life.

When Toshika, my youngest, won a tuition voucher through Cleveland’s new school choice program, I could finally breathe a little easier. In her six years at St. John Nottingham, a Lutheran school, she has always been on the honor or merit roll, the teachers know her, and she is happy. I never fully explained to her the legal challenges facing the program that pays her tuition, or that a single Supreme Court decision could mean we would have to find her a new school. It would have broken her heart.

So I did what I could to defend the program, working with the Institute for Justice to tell my story to the media, hoping that the people who make decisions would listen to parents’ voices. I’ve given more than 75 interviews and appeared on network television and in papers from Maine to Hawaii. Columnist George Will and writers for The Wall Street Journal and USA Today have interviewed me. I’ve spoken at rallies and press conferences and even to President Bush.

If at any point I had quit, giving in to exhaustion, I would have felt that I let my children and the children of Cleveland down.

I’ve lived in Cleveland all these years and, with rare exception, I haven’t met anyone here who stood up for us. I had to go all the way to Washington to the Institute for Justice to find hearts that really care. God’s got people all over the place, and I feel indebted to these kind people who have helped me win for my children not just a choice, but a chance.

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