By Cheryl Kirk
Like so many in my community, I heard the disappointing news over the weekend that the national governing board of the NAACP voted to ratify a resolution to stop the expansion of charter schools.
“Until those schools can be held as accountable as public schools and find a way to fund charter schools that doesn’t hurt public school,” they said.
As a parent who has exercised school choice, I have watched charter schools close because they weren’t providing the quality education that they had promised to the community. I have yet to see a single district school close for the same reason. Poor performance has been allowed to continue for decades in the Indianapolis Public Schools. In fact, there are schools that were so chronically underperforming, the state of Indiana took charge of them. And still, they continue to fail our poor children of color.
The NAACP is proposing that poor and minority parents leave their children in zip code assigned failing schools because of the damage school choice - well, charters- does to the infrastructure of the traditional public schools. But what about the damage already being done to our kids?
If we were to rewind a few years, the NAACP’s charter moratorium would have changed the trajectory of my children’s lives. I, as a mother, would have been left with no choice but to send my children to an underperforming school, at least until I was able to afford a home in a place where quality schools were embedded in the zip code and came with the keys to the house.
But so many families will never financially be able to make that move; without options, their children are condemned to the same schools that have been failing their neighborhoods for decades. It’s been twelve years for me and I am still waiting for the city of Indianapolis to fix its very broken system. And when push came to shove with my own children’s futures, I wasn’t going to wait around another minute. I had an obligation as a parent to consider every single option available to me.
When it came time for my children to enter their freshman year of high school, every single Indianapolis high school had earned a rating of D or F, with one exception. A magnet school. The only options for Indianapolis parents with children starting high school were poor and failing schools. And the majority of the parents trapped in our state’s largest city and left without any good options were people of color. With children of color.
As a parent I had to make a decision. Do I just accept the injustice and send my children into a system that I know is very broken? Or do I step outside the box and look for an alternative that will make my children’s success much more likely? Stepping outside the box would not be the most convenient choice. It would mean we would give up bus service and the distance to school would be much further from our home.
We stepped outside the box. Convenience was meaningless compared to the importance of my babies’ education. It has not been easy balancing work with getting them to school far away and on time. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Contrary to what so many (wrongly) believe, Moms like me are not committed to any kind of school over any other. Charter, private, magnet, traditional district are all just fine, as long as they are good. Quality is what matters. Learning is what matters. Satisfied families is what matters.
I am just one of many parents raising children in a city where we have spent for what feels like forever waiting for a quality education for our children. Eleven years is too long to wait for Superman to rescue us. If I hadn’t acted and taken advantage of my nontraditional options, the trajectory of my kids’ lives would likely look very different. School choice in Indiana has given my family access to the schools we need and deserve.
The NAACP should be looking out for us. Protecting us. Empowering us as parents.
And instead, they turned their backs on us.