There are many ways to look at school choice. Down here in the trenches the picture looks personal and frustrating. I’m a white financially stable mom of an autistic child. In many ways, my family is the poster family for school choice. I have the resources and time to access the choice options in my area. Yet time and time again, I stay and fight for public schools.
In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges of the choice model is that it’s not interested in making public school better. The choice model states, that if you’re not happy with your school, leave. I’ve felt this way many times. However, what about the problems that lead me to feel this way? Are they still there for future generations to endure, when I leave? What about the children who literally can’t afford to leave? Are the problems so bad that they can never change?
The problems with public school are not insurmountable. Many of the problems stem from a very fixable solution. We need to fully fund our public schools. Our kids in North Carolina, can succeed with better resources and better allocation to our vulnerable students. We’ve lost thousands of Teaching Assistants positions in the last decade. More eyes and ears in the building could make a dramatic difference for students. We don’t have support staff either, that could provide emotional support as well as medical assistance. Money matters. Even if you’re problem is training and awareness. None of that happens without funding to provide the professional development.
As parents leave the public school system, frustrated that their IEP wasn’t handled, or that services were denied, it feels like I’ve lost one more voice. No one in public school is giving an exit interview. They need to know what went wrong. We need to do something productive with our anger at a system that fails us. We need to advocate for change at every level of government.
Public school offers something that most private schools can’t guarantee, and that is my full legal federal rights. Choosing a private school means those rights, certified special education teachers, and free services may not be available. I want my child integrated with his peers as much as possible in a diverse school. Public school has the potential to provide that. It is by no means living up to its promise, and that is why I fight.
It is hard to find a non profit these days for kids with disabilities fighting for better funding for public school. Many, like the Autism Society for North Carolina, has joined the school choice bandwagon. They’re not fighting. I don’t hear our local and statewide non profits organizing when we have real school funding problems. We need strong advocates for our kids who are interested in making public school work for all children. I don’t need another seminar on knowing my individual rights. I need to attack the under funding of a system, and organizers willing to put in the work.
I’ve seen advocacy work first hand. I was proudly part of a team of parents in North Carolina that secured funding for our specialist teachers. Our voices carry weight if only we have the guts to use them. So many of the problems disability parents deal with on a small scale, are part of the larger systemic issue of under funding. I’m done fighting the small scale battle, and I’m ready to declare war on the national, state, and local level of under funding our public schools.
School choice is tricky. I will always understand when a child is harmed that they need to find a safe place. However, I believe public school is the best way to educate our children. Public school is just that, it is public. We the people have the power to shape it, and change it for the better. No other choice option allows for the public to engage in direct action like public education. Thus, it is time to lift our voices together and be advocates of change, and fully fund our our public schools, not just for our kids, but for every kid.