By Jennifer Roy
You may have heard that everything is bigger in Texas. Most of the time, we take pride in that. However, the disturbingly large number of students in Texas on charter school wait lists is a source of disappointment, concern. These wait lists and other obstacles to alternative learning options are a cause for action.
The Texas Charter Schools Association just released new data revealing that more than 101,000 students — enough to fill Cowboys Stadium – are on waiting lists in Texas. Too many families are forced to settle for an option that doesn’t quite fit as pivotal early education years pass them by.
For students struggling to master their lessons, charter schools offer the extra assistance they need to succeed. Through specialized online programs for subjects such as math and reading, students are able to learn the lessons in a way that works best for their unique needs.
The individualized learning plans offered by charter schools allow advanced students to work beyond the level of their peers. Many advanced students are bored and unchallenged in the traditional classroom. Online educational options in particular allow students to work up to their potential, even if that means they are working at grade levels above their peers. Through online charter schools, many high school students are able to complete their state mandated curriculum, while also taking college level courses. Some of these students graduate with enough college credit to allow them to enter college at a sophomore level!
Online and blended learning model charter schools provide students with the flexibility to pursue their interests outside of the classroom. From pro athletes to regular kids looking to fit an extra few hours a week of their favorite activity into their schedules, students find the flexible schedule to be a tremendous asset.
With so many innovative learning opportunities available to students through brick-and-mortar charter schools, virtual charter schools and blended learning models, public education has the tools to meet all types of individualized learning needs. Yet, many students are denied access simply because they seek to enroll after the start of the school year or they didn’t previously attend a traditional public school.
Too many parents in states across the country are facing these wait lists with disappointment and frustration. Despite growing acceptance of charter schools at the national level, state capitols and local schools districts are where the opposition is taking a stand. Just ask the parents of the students on waiting lists in Texas or the parents in North Carolina who were handed a significant public charter school setback.
The North Carolina State Board of Education ignored an application this year for the state’s first virtual public charter school, never even giving it a hearing. This act undercut the will and intent of a law passed by the legislature to lift caps on charter schools. The School Board did the opposite. The issue is now before the courts, but it’s too late for the 1,500 students who had enrolled and planned to attend the North Carolina virtual charter school this school year.
These setbacks energize parents in the fight to make their voices heard, and the voice of collective parents carries weight. Earlier this year in Michigan families played a key role in advancing legislation that would lift the arbitrary virtual charter school enrollment cap that forced 10,000 students onto waiting lists. Governor Snyder signed legislation in May that allows these students to move off waiting lists and onto enrollment lists. Parents have helped to drive positive outcomes in Florida, Idaho, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and several other states this year alone.
I know that traditional public schools meet the needs of many students. I know many families who have a child enrolled and thriving in the local public school while another child attends a public charter school simply because it’s a better fit. The answer is in providing families with innovative education options and we have them available. We cannot idly stand by while these parents and students continue to remain stagnated on wait lists.
Jennifer Roy is the President of the Board of PublicSchoolOptions.org, a national alliance of parents that supports parents’ rights to access the best public school options for students.