Charter school parent speaks up in support of equitable funding
Sun Sentinel – July 11, 2017 – My wife and I are charter school parents. Our son Sidney attends an excellent charter school in Broward County. It is not an exaggeration to say if it wasn’t for this school, which we chose after months of searching, we wouldn’t be living in Florida. Finding the right school for our son was that important to us, and we are thankful we had options.
I say this in response to recent attacks on charter schools, including a July 1 column (“It’s time to save public education in Florida”) by Florida Sen. Perry Thurston Jr. I agree with the senator that education funding in Florida is too low. All of us should stand together for greater funding, no matter what option we choose for our children. But to pit one option against another — and to dismiss thousands of parents who choose charter schools — is reckless.
Thurston focused on HB 7069. He tried to characterize it as a giveaway to charter schools, rather than an attempt to level the playing field for 300,000 Florida students who now attend them. He also offered little data as he made it sound like charter schools are a failing system that is duping parents.
It’s a distorted picture. But it’s also one that will be painted again and again as some lawmakers and school districts gear up to fight the new law.
The data show that in virtually every category, charter school students in Florida are outperforming similar students in traditional public schools. According to the Miami Herald, that is especially true for low-income and minority students. Other research shows students in Florida charter schools are graduating and going to college at higher rates, and earning more money once they get jobs.
The new law acknowledges that charter schools on the whole are getting these kinds of results — and that more and more parents appreciate them.
It’s true it requires school districts to share funding with charter schools in some areas, like construction and helping low-income students. But when more students are going into charters, doesn’t that make sense?
It’s also true the new law makes it easier for top-notch charters to go into inner cities where traditional public schools have had little success. But if somebody has a model for uplifting low-income students that has worked elsewhere, and they want to try it here, why would we say no?
My wife is a former public school teacher and administrator. We knew what we wanted when we set out to find a school. We didn’t find it where we lived in Dade County, but when we learned about the North Broward Academy of Excellence, we knew it was worth the move.
Sydney’s school is orderly. The standards are high. The parents are engaged. Sydney’s teachers challenge him. They take it personally that every student succeeds, and they hold themselves accountable.
This is the kind of school many parents want. But too many still don’t have it. Back in our former neighborhood, some felt they had no choice but to lie about their address, so their kids had a shot.
As more options become available, I believe this will happen less and less. In the meantime, politicians like Thurston should be more careful about what — and who — they’re attacking.
As a Democrat, I’m especially disappointed to see some Democratic lawmakers oppose the choices their constituents want. Having more options in education isn’t “cynical” or “onerous” or some kind of attack on public schools, as Sen. Thurston wants Sun Sentinel readers to believe.
Wenzel Lewinsky lives in Lauderhill. He’s on the school advisory council at North Broward Academy of Excellence.