School choice advocate Campbell Brown to speak at State House for National School Choice Week


PROVIDENCE — National school choice advocate, education reform speaker and former NBC and CNN host Campbell Brown will visit Rhode Island next week to speak at a State House rally advocating greater support for options in education.

The rally, organized annually by Rhode Island Families for School Choice, offers students and parents a venue to demand greater support for non-public school options — private, charter and home schools — as well as public education reform and the re-distribution of state education funds. Brown is expected to speak in support of legislation that would give parents greater choice in how tax dollars are spent on their children’s education.

“She’s a perfect person to have come to Rhode Island because she does touch on all of those issues,” said Rachel McGuire, executive director of Rhode Island Families for School Choice. “She touches on issues for charter schools, home schools [and] private schools. She really is a unifier when it comes to the broad school movement.”

Brown began her career in broadcast journalism and served as a news anchor for NBC and CNN before becoming active in education reform, founding the Parents’ Transparency Project and the Partnership for Educational Justice. In recent years, she has become a staunch supporter of school choice, serving on the boards of private and charter schools, and in 2015 founded The 74, a nonprofit news site dedicated to education reform.

“I’m convinced that bringing together reformers with different ideas and priorities, but the same motivation — creating opportunities for kids — will lead to the best possible outcomes for students, communities and America as a whole,” Brown wrote in an opinion piece posted on the website of The 74 last March.

According to McGuire, legislative initiatives for Rhode Island Families for School Choice this year include the proposal of a bill that would allocate $6,000 of education funds per student into individual education savings accounts to be used at the discretion of parents. The plan would allow tax dollars to support the student regardless of school type, giving parents greater choice in their children’s education. Families of students who attend Catholic or other private schools would be able to apply the funds toward tuition or other educational expenses.

Though similar bills have not been successful in Rhode Island in the past, McGuire says she is hopeful for this year’s outcome.

“I think it will do better this year because we have a lot more support. We’ve spent a lot of time talking to our representatives and senators,” she said. “That is one initiative we’re looking forward to this year to have some movement on.”

McGuire also hopes to pursue budget initiatives that would raise the corporate scholarship tax credit from its current limit of $1.5 million to $5 million. The longstanding program offers tax credits to corporations that donate to scholarship funds for low-income private school students. According to McGuire, the program has been oversubscribed every year since its first year of operation, with only 22 of 107 companies that applied last year able to participate due to the state-set limit.

“This is a win-win situation. It makes it a more friendly business environment to offer this credit,” she said.

The rally will take place in the State House Rotunda on Thursday, January 26, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. In addition to Brown, the speaking program will include parents representing private, religious, charter and home-schooled students as well as performances by students from several Catholic schools, including Bishop Hendricken High School and The Prout School String Orchestra.