School choice means real results for real families
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I had the pleasure last week of testifying in front of the House Education Committee hearing, “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice.” The timing of the hearing couldn’t be more critical: with so many American’s hearing terms like “school choice” and “public charter schools” and “district-charter collaboration” for the first time, we need to ensure both they and our education policymakers hear how public school choice impacts students and families. Only then can we come together to decide on the future of education in our country – based on real stories, real facts, and real results.

Public school choice is what it sounds like: giving families the option to choose the public school that is the best fit for their child. Many of us exercise school choice every day, by moving into neighborhoods with high property values and strong district schools or by sending our kids to a private school. While these options work well for many families, some families don’t have the means to leave their neighborhood or its district school that isn’t meeting the needs of their child.

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That family should have choices, too. And that’s why different kinds of public schools exist: district, magnet, and charter. To people who believe that education can transform lives, charters are unique schools that families choose to help their child reach their unique potential. They are publicly funded, tuition free, open to all students, non-religious, and importantly, held to the same state and federal academic standards as district schools.

 

Charter schools are an essential element of public school choice. And working hand in hand with district public schools, district-charter collaboration can strengthen a community’s education across the board.

I began my work in the charter school movement wearing my “dad hat.” As I took each of my three children to their first day of kindergarten, I was so grateful that their school saw my children way I see them – and recognized their individual strengths so that they can become the best versions of themselves. It pained me to see other families in Indianapolis not feel the same trust in their public school, and I wanted to help give them another public choice. And so, with a dedicated staff and board, in 2013 we launched Indianapolis’ Enlace Academy.

At Enlace, we believe that every child can and will learn. We are a grassroots charter school whose name derives from the Spanish word for “link” or “connection,” because the school seeks to be a community hub for our families. As a result of our high levels of family engagement, we’ve achieved a 90 percent retention rate and 96 percent attendance rate. On Indiana’s state assessment, our growth score of 115 points far exceeded the state average and earned us an A-rating.  We have done all of this without having to expel students.

Perhaps what I am most proud of, though, is the way Enlace has worked with our partner district Indianapolis Public Schools. As an IPS Innovation Network school, Enlace is able to access the district’s economies of scale and utilize a district facility. In exchange, we have the autonomy to educate kids in our innovative school model whose state assessment scores are counted for the district. And after seeing our success, the district allowed us to replicate our innovative methods by “restarting” one of their most academically challenged schools. Because of our strong district-charter partnership, and the collective responsibility we all feel for our community’s children, Kindezi Academy now exists.

Like Enlace, public charter schools across the country operate under the notion that achievement results from rigorous systems of accountability and community collaboration.  As a public school, we are held accountable to the state and federal requirements for all schools.  As a charter school, we are additionally held accountable to our authorizer for high academic achievement, strong financial health, and ethical governance practices.  Most importantly, we are held accountable to the families we serve. If we don’t honor the trust they place in us, they can choose a school that better meets their needs.

Parents, not zip codes, should decide what school meets the specific needs of their children.  Charter schools provide parents with options for their child to access a high quality education. The charter community now numbers more than 3 million students, and continues to grow, as more parents see the power of school choice. I hope last week’s hearing also helped policymakers see the real impact that choice is making in the lives of students and families.

Kevin Kubacki is the Executive Director of The Neighborhood Charter Network in Indianapolis, Indiana.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.