Nicole Wilkins: A parent advocate for all children


April 29, 2022 8:45AM

Nicole Wilkins is a lifelong Memphian. A mother of six kids, she’s a hard worker and a devoted mother. In addition to raising and providing for her children, she also considers herself a full-time advocate for all kids and, more specifically, their educational opportunities. 

Nicole has two kids who are still in high school, one of whom has special learning needs. As Nicole has tried to navigate her way through the public school system in Memphis, she has run into roadblock after roadblock in getting her children the educational opportunities and accommodations they need to thrive. 

“All of my kids are different,” Nicole told me. “They all have different needs. And when I ask school administrators to accommodate for those needs, they don’t seem to care. Either they don’t care or they can’t help.”

But why can’t they help? “The schools get money,” said Nicole, “but they can’t help my kids? Where is the money going? Why do they keep throwing money at the problems, but the problems don’t get fixed?”

The state’s ESA and IEA programs were created to help families like Nicole’s—families that need special considerations for their children and have tried countless times to get that help to no avail. Parents who can’t afford other options on their own and whose concerns are left unresolved—parents like Nicole—would have a say in their children’s education with an education savings account. As a matter of fact, in all of my years talking to parents like Nicole, I’ve never heard as much excitement as I did when I told her that things like ESAs exist—or will hopefully soon exist in Tennessee. 

It’s not hard to see why choice opportunities would excite parents. Oftentimes, they are their kids’ only advocates. And when they see so clearly that their children are struggling and feel like they keep hitting the wall as they’re looking for solutions, choice would give them the ability to exercise accountability with the schools. Elected officials on the state and local levels who continue making attempts to squash the ESA and IEA programs should get out in their communities and talk to the families who would be affected. If they did that, I bet that their mindset would change.