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The Speaker’s Opportunity Box


This week is National School Choice Week and that’s not lost on Speaker of the House John Boehner, as he prepares for tomorrow night’s State of the Union Address.

His first Speaker’s box will include parents, students, and teachers. Three of four children who will be sitting there will be students who are attending Catholic schools in Washington, D.C. under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program this president and congressional Democrats have thus far refused to renew.

Also sitting in the Speaker’s box will be someone who has written for NRO: Virginia Walden Ford, the brave, energetic hero to many D.C. parents and children, who runs D.C. Parents for School Choice (who I’ve met many a time at the Heritage Foundation). She’s been a tireless advocate for the D.C. school-choice program, a tireless advocate of young people in our nation’s capital.

One of two newly elevated American cardinals in the Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl will also be sitting in the Speaker’s box.

The presence of Wuerl, Ford, students, parents, and teachers will underscore the Speaker’s commitment to not only these scholarships but a bipartisan effort to continue them in the 112th Congress.

A senior House GOP source tells NRO: “If President Obama is serious about bipartisan education reform, his administration should start by supporting bipartisan education reform in the form of saving the successful D.C. school choice initiative.”

On Wednesday morning, Boehner and Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman will hold a press conference to introduce the reauthorization of the school-choice legislation. To give an idea of prioritization: This is the only bill the Speaker currently plans to sponsor himself this session.

Here’s the (exclusive to NRO) list of the students, parents, and teachers who will be sitting in the Speaker’s box Tuesday night (they are all involved with the Consortium of Catholic Academies, which John Boehner has been a longtime supporter of):

John P. Kelly is a first-year middle-school teacher at one of the Consortium of Catholic Academies.  He teaches sixth and seventh grade Social Studies and Religion. He graduated from Marquette University in 2010 and is an Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) masters student at the University of Notre Dame.


Mary Joyner is a sixth grade homeroom teacher at one of the Consortium of Catholic Academies.  She teaches middle-school Social Studies and Science and is the most senior member of her school’s teaching staff. 


Lisa Rowe currently serves as one of the Consortium of Catholic Academies’ vice-principals.  She was the fourth grade teacher at St. Francis de Sales School prior to its conversion into a Center City Public Charter School.    


Michael Thomasian is an eighth grade homeroom teacher at one of the Consortium of Catholic Academies.  He teaches middle-school Religion and serves as an assistant principal. 


Kennie May, Jr. is in the eighth grade at one of Consortium of Catholic Academies.  His strength as a school leader is reflected in his status of School Ambassador – a role that requires him to meet with school visitors and prospective families.  Kennie is interested in attending Gonzaga or Archbishop Carroll for high school.  Kenny’s father, Kennie May, will accompany him. 


Matthew Coleman is an eighth grade Opportunity Scholarship student at one of Consortium of Catholic Academies. He is a member of the student choir and is an altar server at his church.  Next year, Matt would like to attend Bishop McNamara, Archbishop Carroll or Gonzaga for high school.  Matt’s mother, Mrs. Nicole Banks-Coleman, will accompany him.

  Lesly Alvarez is an eighth grade Opportunity Scholarship student at one of the Consortium of Catholic Academies.  She is a bilingual student and has been accepted to attend Archbishop Carroll High School.  In addition to her recent acceptance, Lesly was awarded the Principal’s Scholarship.  She is interested in studying business in college. Lesly’s mother, Mrs. Eva Alvarez, will accompany her. 


Obiora “Obi” Mbanefo is an eighth grade Opportunity Scholarship student attending one of the Consortium of Catholic Academies.   He excels in all subject areas and was recently awarded a full academic scholarship to an area private high school.  He is an alter server at his church.  Obi’s father, Mr. Victor Mbanefo, will accompany him.

(All bios courtesy of the Consortium.)

And here’s Lesly Alvarez’s message to Congress, probably more powerful than anything any Speaker of the House can say (emphasis mine):

My name is Lesly Alvarez. I am a student at Sacred Heart School. I am a recipient of the OSP. I am very grateful for the chance to have a bright future. The main contributor for me to have a bright future and a successful one is the OSP. Thanks to the OSP I am able to attend Sacred Heart School. I first received the opportunity scholarship in 2nd grade.

I have been a recipient of the OSP for about 6 years no[w]. Actually, my brother used to be a part of the OSP also. Although, my brother, Jonathan Alvarez, does not receive the OSP anymore because he is in college he received many opportunities through the OSP. The OSP is a very good way to ensure the nation’s children have a good future. Like they say, children are the future. So don’t you think if they are the future, they should have the opportunity to have the best future and education possible? I think so.

The OSP is the only way that many students at private schools even attend the school. If the OSP is to be cancelled, that would leave a lot of children without the chance to receive a great education. Thanks to the OSP I will be able to attend Archbishop Carroll High School next year. I will receive the financial aid of the opportunity scholarship and the Principal’s Scholarship! So I am asking you as a student and a child that goes to a private school, why would anyone want to take away the chance for all of the children to have a great education? 

Note: Some of the bios have been updated since posting. 


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