Washington, D.C.—Tracy Richardson, Florida’s most recognized “school choice mom,” sought to correct the misimpression that she has somehow lessened her support for the school choice program that allows her daughter, Khaliah, to attend a private school. In a story first run in the Pensacola News Journal and later picked up by Associated Press and newspapers across the state, comments attributed to Richardson gave the distinct impression that she was somehow dissatisfied with the program, a feeling that Richardson wants to make clear is exactly the opposite of how she feels.
Richardson said, “The reporter put words in my mouth that I don’t believe. She wrote that I believe too much is expected of parents in the program. That’s not true. I believe parents should be deeply involved in their children’s education and I think it is good that choice schools expect that of them. She wrote that I knew parents who opted out of the choice program because the only way they could get their children to school was by taxi when in fact the opposite is true; I know parents who believe so much in this program that they are willing to hire cabs to take their kids to school. That is how much choice means to them. This report took pieces of what I said and tried to give the impression that I have turned against the program. That is simply not the case.”
Richardson said, “Throughout the two-hour interview I did with this reporter, she kept on asking me questions that I now see were designed to get a negative comment from me about the program. The reporter would ask things like, ‘Do private schools not participate in the program because it was too controversial?’”
“Throughout the interview, I tried to explain the positive things about the Opportunity Scholarships Program, like the fact that my daughter was actually learning now and not just being passed on from grade to grade, but in the end, the reporter didn’t show much interest in any of those points,” Richardson said.
Tracy is among the parents represented by the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm that is defending Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. John Kramer, IJ’s vice president for communications, said, “I got a call from Tracy yesterday. She was extremely upset about the coverage and how it mischaracterized her genuine and longtime support for school choice. After reading the original report and speaking with Tracy, it looks like she got a raw deal from this reporter and especially the headline writer. Reading the piece, it seems clear the newspaper went out of its way to make Tracy look critical of the program when in fact the opposite is true. This is a misuse of journalism, which should be used to clarify important issues for the public, not muddle them by trying to create controversy where there isn’t any.”