As I drive past the giant billboard in my hometown school district, I smile a little.
Many moons ago, this large traditional public ISD was the right choice for the birth of my teaching career. Stacked classes, rosters filled with nearly 50 students, and every imaginable professional problem of practice planted the seeds of grit necessary for me to survive as an educator.
It comes as no surprise then that my peers were beyond shocked when I announced that I would be leaving said district to embark on a new adventure with a public charter school. Numerous misconceptions about public charters had peppered their perspectives, and while some questioned the sanity of my decision, I knew at the time that it was the right choice for me.
In the decade since, the work I have been able to accomplish with IDEA Public Schools has transformed into the right choice for my students and the communities they call home. By providing teachers and principals opportunity for innovation, we are able to meet the needs of our individual students and ensure all have equal opportunity for success.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my hometown school district is the right choice for thousands of children, but the key is choice. When our communities provide choices for children, we open new and often unexplored pathways ripe with opportunity. Choice means that children who are new to our country can be taught in a dual language setting that equips them with the adaptation skills necessary to build upon their prior knowledge. Choice means that children in our special education program have the same access to rigorous, diverse content in the general classroom setting. Choice means that I get to observe how the tireless work of our faculty is changing the life trajectory for entire families. In short, choice is right for our children because it allows students to attend the schools where they learn best.
So when I drive past the brightly lit billboard in South Texas, I smile – not out of cynicism, or negativity, or superiority – but because a quality public education, in any form, is always the right choice. Because ten years ago, I joined a team of 16 teachers and 240 children on a humid August morning to found IDEA College Preparatory San Juan. Because our DREAMers have gone on to achieve bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Because in just two short weeks, children who would have gotten lost in the shuffle elsewhere – children who would have been given up on or stereotyped – will cross the stage and receive their hard-earned high school diplomas. Because, for us, this is the right choice.
For parents and teachers like me, charter schools are a complement, not a replacement, to our Independent School Districts. Public charter schools strengthen the public school system by offering more kids an opportunity for a great public education at schools that put their needs first. But despite the important role public charters play in Texas public education, they receive less money per student than traditional district schools because they are not eligible for local tax dollars. This funding disparity undercuts the tremendous work happening at schools like IDEA Public Schools and limits the freedom of school choice for families across the state.
As Texas legislators finalize the school finance reform bill, House Bill 3, it is critical they make progress on closing the funding gap between charter and district schools. We must ensure our students aren’t being shortchanged by an unequal funding system — because public education doesn’t belong to one particular type of school, it belongs to our kids.