Why charter public schools matter, especially for my kids

By Erica Valente
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My three children made me a mom. Trying to get them a good education in Los Angeles public schools made me an advocate. And today, I’m an impassioned one.

The recent decision by the Los Angeles Unified School District to place a moratorium on the number of charter schools that can open here is going to shut the doors of opportunity on tens of thousands of kids just like mine – for no good reason.

When I was looking for a middle school for my daughter, Ashley, a decade ago, I wasn’t looking at school “type” but rather at its quality, its safety, and its culture.

KIPP Scholar Academy in South Los Angeles was the school that best met our needs. I liked its approach to college preparation and the support network provided by leadership. This choice has created a bright path for my daughter from L.A. to Boston, where she’s studying now.

In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Unified School District teachers’ strike, the Board of Education voted to endorse a pause on new charter schools in order to end the walkout.

The teachers who went on strike raised very valid concerns about the state of our education system, from underpaid teachers to overcrowding in classrooms to inequitable school funding.

Ironically, it is this very disinvestment in our public schools over the past few decades that has led many families like mine to seek alternatives. And now the same local and state officials who deprived the educational system are the ones saying families shouldn’t have any other public school options to consider.

I am in awe of every Los Angeles Unified teacher and respect their decision to strike and stand up for what they believe in. Like them, I’m passionate about improving the quality of education for students across this city.

However, it saddens me that this vote paints charter schools as part of the problem in Los Angeles, and not part of the solution.

Charter schools exist to give choice to families who haven’t always had access to good schools. This moratorium will limit families from having the same opportunities that mine did–to choose the school that will give their children the best possible shot at success.

The Board of Education actions threaten the future of thousands of young people. There are 16,000 low-income students on waitlists for charter schools in Los Angeles and I fear this number will only grow as we await the results of a fiscal impact report.

Charter schools are public schools, serving 100,000 students and families in Los Angeles. My family’s story is just one of many.

At KIPP Scholar, my daughter grew leaps and bounds in academics and character development. She learned to play instruments, and her school counselors helped her to apply for summer programs that she never would have heard about otherwise.

Before she graduated from KIPP Scholar after the 8th grade, the school helped Ashley apply for a scholarship to attend Phillips Academy Andover, a boarding school in Boston, where she has thrived for the past three years.

She’s looking forward to picking out her dream college with the help of her KIPP Through College counselors, and is a source of daily inspiration for her younger brother and sister in Los Angeles, who also attend KIPP LA schools.

While charter schools may not be the solution for all students, there is no denying that in Los Angeles charter schools are providing a much-needed option in countless communities.

study found that students in charter schools gain about 50 more days of learning in reading and 79 more days of learning in math than their peers in district schools. These differences are even greater for Hispanic students like my children who gained 58 more days in reading and 115 in math.

And students who attend KIPP schools are also far more likely to attend and complete college. KIPP students, who are predominantly low-income and students of color, are three times more likely to graduate from college compared to low-income students nationally.

There are lessons here the larger public school system can learn from, if we could just stop pitting school against school and parent against parent.

All children have a right to a good education, no matter what neighborhood they live in or how much money their parents make. We must move beyond the debate about charter schools and focus on what all parents want: more great schools to help our children thrive and lead choice-filled lives.


Erica Valente is a parent of two students who attend charter schools in Los Angeles and a daughter who attends boarding school in Boston, erica.valentela@gmail.com. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

 

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