We can’t hit the brakes on school choice-families like mine need good schools, too

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by Cheryl Kirk

I’m a mom who supports choice for a simple reason: My children have thrived academically because they could bypass our failing Indianapolis neighborhood school and enroll first in a local charter school and then in a private school with the help of a voucher.

But I also know the issue of school choice has become very controversial, especially here in my home state.

Indiana has one of the fastest growing school choice programs in the nation, with more than 37,000 students enrolled in 79 charters and more than 32,000 enrolled in 316 private schools as part of the state’s voucher program.

Parents, school officials and politicians both for and against school choice are battling over whether using public funds for education outside of traditional school systems is hindering or helping the overall quality of education.

Opponents point to low-performing charter schools that have closed because of low student achievement, and in one case, widespread test cheating. They also argue that the voucher program hurts public schools because it takes public dollars away from local districts and sends them to private and parochial schools that are not accountable to taxpayers.

The proponents point to charters and private schools that provide a much better fit for families who need them the most–schools that are safer, better run and more academically challenging than the traditional Indianapolis Public Schools serving the same students.

My twin children started at a charter in Kindergarten. And thanks to the voucher program, we had yet another option when it came to selecting a high school.

The traditional neighborhood high school was too large and not demanding enough–it would not have been a good fit for my now 11th-grade twins. The local charter school they were attending at the time did not meet the needs of our family, so we were able to enroll them at a local Christian school, with small class sizes and a more demanding college preparatory curriculum. The school gives them the academic structure and push they need to succeed.

One piece of evidence came to me on a recent weekend.

Along with many other Indiana parents I received my twins end-of-course assessment scores (ECA), a part of the Indiana graduation requirements for all public schools and private schools that accept vouchers. I breathed a huge sigh of relief because they both passed both the Algebra I and English 10 exams.

My kids passing the exams on first take was not by chance or coincidence. My daughter sometimes struggles with grammar and my son with math. I have no doubt that their success is largely because of the extra attention they have received at Heritage Christian School.

My daughter, now a junior, had an 8th grade teacher who was, and still is, always willingly to read over her papers before she turns them in. My son has coaches and teachers who work together to make sure he is getting the extra math help he needs.

Keziah and Jair were prepared for the test. I feel confident they are going to be prepared for college and beyond.

I have education options for my children that I wouldn't have without school choice. They are in a diverse environment, learning with students from many different cultures and economic circumstances.

Indiana is leading the way in creating quality educations for all without regard to families’ economic status. Undoubtedly Indiana is still putting the pieces together on how to best provide the school choice options; we still struggle with issues around funding, accountability, and barriers to families who need access to school choice.

But just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we need to hit the brakes on school choice.

I sincerely hope many cities and states start to follow Indiana’s lead.

We need to stop pretending that the only solution to fixing our dilapidated neighborhood schools is by taking away school options from the parents and children who need them the most. Parents like me now have the opportunity to choose a quality education no matter our income, zip code or circumstance.