A week ago Monday I attended a perfectly hosted event by the CATO Institute celebrating the life of Andrew Coulson. For ten years Mr. Coulson was the director of the organization’s Center for Educational Freedom. He died at the age of just 48 on February 7, 2016 from a brain tumor.
Mr. Coulson was best known for his book Market Education: The Unknown History which he wrote in 1999. Executive vice-president David Boaz reminded those in attendance that Bill Gates quit school to form Microsoft while Mr. Coulson left Microsoft to reform schools. I knew him for his pioneering effort to better understand the real cost of educating children attending DCPS. Most people assumed as true that the number was around $15,000 a student a year. Mr. Coulson showed that the statistic was really double that amount. No one was ever able to refute his claim.
Mr. Coulson started his career in public policy at the Mackinac Center. There he worked with Joe Overton, a friend of mine who was another pioneer in the school choice movement. Mr. Overton passed away at age 43 in 2003 when a plane he was piloting crashed to the ground. His revolutionary work in education revolved around the use of the Universal Tuition Tax Credit as an alternative to the often negative perceptions associated with private school vouchers. But I knew Mr. Overton best for the steady ethical advice he provided to me about my own career.
The same illness that overcame Mr. Coulson claimed the life of Joseph E. Robert, Jr. For years it appeared that it was only Mr. Robert’s indomitable will that led to the continued operation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the federal plan that provides private school tuition for kids living in poverty in Washington, D.C. We may never really understand why this man who was able to generate so much income during his 59 years decided to give so much of it away to those less fortunate than himself.
Besides the commonalities that all three of these men’s existences ended much earlier than they should have, and that each fought for better educational opportunities for the most vulnerable individuals, they also shared an often all-encompassing love of life. We saw an excellent example of that in a video presented at the CATO tribute regarding Mr. Coulson in which you could hear him laughing throughout the five minute presentation. I had the chance to play tennis with Mr. Overton who demonstrated the identical outlook evident in his strong will to win. Anyone who had the chance to attend one Fight Night Gala witnessed firsthand the same quality in Mr. Robert.
It is in honor of these gentleman’s bold legacies and their enthralling love of life that we must continue to fiercely advocate for equal opportunity in public education for those who are the poorest among us.