A mother's plea: Fair funding for public charter schools

ByHortencia Mata

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As a Houston mother of three children, I want my children to have the best education. I can’t afford private school. For us, public charter schools are the right choice. While my children have found the public schools for them, there are still challenges.

I learned about public charter schools because of my oldest daughter, Andrea. She had a good experience in a district elementary school. But I was concerned because I heard the local middle school was unsafe. I thought, “If my daughter goes to this school, I will be afraid every day.”

My friends told me about a public charter school called KIPP that was helping students get to and through college. The school had long days and hard work. But they also had visits to colleges. I wanted this for my children.

I tried to sign up Andrea and my son, Omar, who was going to middle school the year after. KIPP told me there was a waiting list. Andrea had to wait two years, and Omar had to wait one year before they got into KIPP through a lottery.

During those years, they were not being challenged in their classes. I was worried that they would not go to college like I dreamed for them.

When Andrea and Omar finally got into KIPP, they were so happy. They found friends right away. Their teachers were friendly and welcoming. They didn’t mind staying late at school. Andrea loved the classes, teachers and university visits. These things inspired her to work harder and make decisions for a better life.

After I moved my children to KIPP, I learned that Texas gives public charter schools about $1,000 less per student than what is provided to school districts. That means $2,000 per year disappeared when Andrea and Omar went to KIPP. Why are we being punished for choosing a better public school?

Our school has to make hard financial decisions. Omar wanted to take robotics, but the class was cut. He wants to major in architectural engineering, so this would have been a good experience. They also cut back on college trips, visiting fewer out-of-state and more Texas universities now. Lastly, our school facilities aren’t very good. The cafeteria is also used as a gym, theater and big classroom.

Even with these problems, my two older children are doing great because of KIPP. Andrea was valedictorian at KIPP Houston High School last year. She is now in her second semester at the University of Texas at Austin, studying computer science. I was worried she would be alone, but with KIPP, she is not alone. KIPP helped her find a community of other students, and KIPP staff check in regularly to see how she is doing in college.

Omar is a senior at KIPP Houston High School, and plans to join Andrea at UT-Austin on a full scholarship in the fall.

Now I think about my youngest daughter, Isabel. She is in third grade at a KIPP school. She has been in KIPP since pre-K and already knows she is going to college, too. I know KIPP will give her a good education. But I worry that, because of the possible funding gaps, she will not have the opportunities she deserves like other public school students.

It is not fair that my children’s schools are treated differently. If public charter schools like KIPP had full funding, children wouldn’t have to wait for years to get in through the lottery. They could have extracurricular activities and good buildings.

I have learned there are more than 50,000 parents like me with children in a public charter school in Houston. There are more than 35,000 other parents on the wait lists. We are talking to each other, writing letters and asking politicians to help. We need them to hear us.

I have traveled to Austin to ask our legislators to fix the funding difference. I say to them: You don’t need to just listen to my words.

Look at Andrea, Omar and Isabel. Public charter schools are helping our children become good people. They need fair funding to help more students.

Mata is a Houston resident.