TAMPA — An organization committed to school choice is screening a movie in Tampa that honors a Washington, D.C. parent who fought for a historic, federally funded school voucher program.
“Miss Virginia,” staring Uzo Abuda of “Orange is the New Black” in the role of Virginia Walden Ford, will be shown 7 p.m. on Dec. 10 at the Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St.
Admission is free, with tickets available at this link. Walden Ford will be available for questions after the movie.
The event is promoted by Step Up For Students, a Clearwater-based organization that oversees several voucher and scholarship programs for the state of Florida.
The film explores Walden Ford’s struggle to raise and educate her teenage son in a low-income neighborhood in the nation’s capital.
Describing the experience in a blog entry in 2018, Walden Ford wrote: “I saw my son choosing to run with the kids who were getting in trouble and when I asked him why, he told me that he felt safer being a part of the thug world. He said that smart kids got beat up. William began skipping school and getting into all kinds of trouble in school with teachers and administration. He truly believe that if he acted ‘bad,’ he would be safe. He seldom did homework because he felt like it didn’t matter to anyone whether he passed or failed."
A neighbor helped Walden Ford pay tuition to put her son in a private school, she said, and she got a second job “with gratitude” to pay the rest of the cost.
The experience led her to advocate, through a grassroots organization, for other families who needed alternatives.
As with many things that touch on school choice, “Miss Virginia” has been met with divided opinions.
The production company, Moving Pictures Institute, received funding from the conservative Mercer Family Foundation, and “Miss Virginia” enjoyed very little screen time in commercial theaters.
Walden Ford, in an interview with the Washington Post, insisted the project was not political; and that during her struggle, “the only policy we thought about is how we can get better options for our kids.”
Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took Hollywood to task recently for not promoting the film. “'Miss Virginia’ should be in bright lights on every marquee across America,” DeVos said during a pro-voucher event in Washington, D.C.. “But Hollywood elites let their politics get in the way of advancing the greatest civil rights struggle today.”
This is not the first time the Tampa theater has aired a film with a strong message about school choice.
A little more than a year ago, a largely anti-charter crowd turned out to see “Backpack Full of Cash,” a documentary that was narrated by Matt Damon, with the central theme that charter schools strip district-run schools of the funding they need to operate successfully.