Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., went to four schools before reaching fourth grade.
"From seven until 14 years old, I kind of drifted," Scott said Tuesday at the American Federation for Children's National Policy Summit. "I was lost. I was disillusioned."
So it's not surprising that he flunked out of high school in his freshman year. He failed world geography, English and Spanish. He even failed civics — ironic, given his current position.
But two things helped change the path of Scott's life.
Scott says it made a difference that his mother started disciplining him more strictly.
Scott also met a mentor, John Moniz, who operated a Chick-fil-A. Scott says Moniz taught him the power of education. "John started teaching me that I could think my way out of poverty. His suggestion was not that kids and families stuck in poverty are not thinking. His suggestion was [that Scott] needed to focus his attention not on the football field, not on entertainment, but on education. And that if I allowed education to percolate in my soil, and in my soul, all things could be different."
Sadly, Moniz died at the age of 38, four years after Scott met him. But Scott went on to graduate from high school, graduate from college and start his own small business. He was eventually elected to the Charleston County Council, the state House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives and now the Senate.
That explains the importance of education to Scott, but what about school choice?
"The power of education is truly the power of freedom," Scott said. "That's why I'm committed to [school choice] as a member of the United States Senate. It's because I have lived the American Dream. … The work that we're doing around school choice is indeed perhaps the most powerful work I think I can do that will leave an imprint on this nation for generations and generations to come."
Today, Scott is one of the biggest school choice advocates in the Senate. In 2015, while the Senate worked to pass the first major K-12 education bill since No Child Left Behind in 2001, Scott was busy pushing for school choice amendments. With Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program set to expire on Sept. 30, Scott is one of a few cosponsors of a Senate bill that would extend the program and has testified in its favor.
It's clear to Scott that the education status quo isn't working, especially for families in poverty, and needs dramatic change. "For us to provide as much access to opportunity as possible, it requires us to take a step back from what we think is the right way to provide education and look at it very differently."
"When parents have more choices," Scott said, "the kid has a better chance."
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.