Collaboration and cooperation puts students and families first
By Starlee Coleman
What’s the best education for your child?
How can you even know, unless you have more than one choice?
Don’t you deserve the chance to explore a variety of options, just like you have when making other decisions that impact your family’s future?
Nearly 40,000 students in San Antonio replied “Yes!” to that question. That’s the number of students who are waiting for an opening in public charter schools in San Antonio, according to a new report from Families Empowered. And that number is not even 30 percent of the number of students across the state who end up on wait-lists at schools that don’t have enough space to take all who want to attend. These wait-lists surpassed 141,000 children statewide in recent years. This mirrors the growing demand nationally for more public charter schools. More than 3.2 million students attend charters schools nationally, and there are more than 1 million names on wait-lists across the country.
In Houston, 29,484 families signed up to attend a KIPP Houston Public Schools or YES Prep Public Schools in the 2017/2018 school year. Tens of thousands of those kids were waitlisted because the schools didn’t have enough space for all of them.
In Austin, 8,913 families wanted to attend Austin Achieve Public Schools, KIPP Austin Public Schools or IDEA Public Schools in the 2017/2018 school year.
What the Families Empowered report shows is abundantly clear: that parents want more choices for their children’s education. With our increasingly diverse student body and their wildly diverse needs, no school can be a perfect fit for every child. This is the beauty of public charter schools. Across Texas there are charter schools serving students who need something different. Maybe that’s extra time at school, maybe it’s a STEM-focused curriculum, maybe it’s a drop-out recovery program.
Charter schools are like our public schools’ special ops team. For many children who need something a little different, charters are there to meet their needs.
Davinna Zapata’s oldest daughter, Maria’s dyslexia wasn’t diagnosed by her district school, despite her consistent struggles to read. It was only when Zapata switched Maria to YES Prep, a public charter school in Houston, that her dyslexia was finally recognized and she began to improve academically.
“They immediately ran tests for Maria and discovered she has both dyslexia and Irlen syndrome,” Zapata said. “I noticed a dramatic change in her grades. From Pre-K to fifth grade she always made C-D-F grades. She was barely making it. I saw the change when she was in sixth grade [when she enrolled in YES Prep], her grades went up to A-B-C’s. She was more comfortable and relieved that somebody finally understood her and saw her point of view.”
Having the option to find the school setting that is the best fit for your individual children isn’t just something parents need, it’s something they deserve.
Maria’s story does not mean that ISD schools can’t meet many students’ needs—they can and they do. And they will continue to do so for the vast majority of students in Texas. Charter schools do not have to be a replacement for ISDs—we’re simply another path to do what we all agree public education is supposed to do: Get kids prepared for life. And we’re both better together.
School leaders in San Antonio have recognized the value of working together. Through a pathway created by SB 1882, San Antonio ISD is partnering with high-performing public charter schools and local nonprofits to improve the educational outcomes for thousands of students who have been underserved for years. Some of the benefits of these partnerships include extra funding to keep children from falling behind and access to the innovative practices used in public charter schools.
Collaboration and cooperation puts the needs of students and families first. Other Texas cities and ISDs are beginning to follow San Antonio’s lead—and we hope more will continue to do so.
So, what is the best education for a child in Texas? It’s one where parents have the opportunity to examine multiple options and decide for themselves which school will suit their child’s individual needs the best.
Starlee Coleman is the CEO of Texas Charter Schools Association.