Educators, political advocates, and national experts gathered this month in Oakland to brainstorm how to bring educational choice to all California families.

“This fight is essential. It is critical. It is about social justice for the working poor,” said San Jose Bishop Oscar Cantú, chair of the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.

The goal of the first-ever conference sponsored by California’s bishops: to build a political movement to give every California family the economic ability to send their children to the private, parochial, or public school of their choice.

Four years ago, no state offered universal school choice funding – today 10 states do. Thirty-two states have passed some form of school choice legislation, said Peter Murphy, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist for Invest in Education. Louisiana’s governor says educational freedom is his top priority, said Nathan Sanders of Ed Choice. South Carolina has universal school choice, he said, Idaho and Michigan are thinking about it.

The purpose of the Advancing Educational Excellence Summit was to unite the community in a common strategy, develop leadership, and build coalitions to craft, initiate and institute policy in California.

For decades educational choice seemed a doomed effort in California. A Democratic majority in the California legislature with deep political and financial ties to the California Teachers’ Association has blocked any efforts. But a sea change around the country gave those present cause for hope.

“We can all vote,” said Oakland Bishop Michael Barber, a former chair of the education committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and with Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Marc Trudeau, members of the California bishops’ education committee that sponsored the summit at the Cathedral of Christ the Light Event Center. “We have a lot of Latino Catholics becoming citizens. If you want to break down the power of the unions … we also need candidates to implement these ideas. Learn the teachings of the Church and communicate them….”

From the San Francisco Archdiocese