By: Tillie Elvrum
Of all the challenges military parents face, sending your children off for their first day at a new school is among the most heart-wrenching. Memorizing a new locker combination, braving a sea of unfamiliar faces in the cafeteria, warming up to new teachers – the transition is hard on kids, which makes it also hard on those kids’ parents.
But military families do it – again and again.
Just like other parents who aren’t in the military, our families want school options too. For some, the educational consistency they long for comes in the form of virtual public education. My family was lucky in that respect; my son has attended virtual school in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado, where we have lived since my husband retired from the Air Force. Other families need help navigating – or achieving – options such as virtual education.
That’s why I’ve partnered with my colleague, PublicSchoolOptions.org President Beth Purcell, to introduce our Military Families Chapter. The chapter offers a community for military families interested in alternatives to their assigned public school. In establishing the chapter, we sought to make these families’ transition as seamless as possible. Often, that means just reaching out to welcome and offer support for families interested in options such as virtual education.
These families, many of them, have little context about public school options. So the chapter also serves as a clearing house for information, answering questions like “How do I enroll in a public charter school?” “Who do I need to talk to?” and “What’s the first step?”.
I enjoy answering their questions – except one, that is.
Families ask, “Will my child get to keep his school when we’re stationed elsewhere?” Too often, my answer has to be “no.” I must explain to these families that public options vary from state to state and funding for these schools, including virtual schools, does not apply equally to all students. I must tell these families, for whom some level of consistency finally seemed within their grasp, that their school – or even their choice among schools – may vanish when they cross state or country lines.
Perhaps they’re moving to a state where bureaucrats have established enrollment caps, arbitrarily limiting the number of students admitted to public charter schools. Or maybe their new state requires prerequisites, such as attending a traditional public school for a period of time before becoming eligible for a non-traditional public school, like the virtual options they seek.
As our Military Families Chapter grows with time, I hope to say “no” to military parents less and less. I hope that, united, we can advocate for fairer education opportunities for these students. With more options and fewer impediments, these families can find – and maintain – the public school education that works best for their children.
After all, if anybody deserves a choice, a shot at consistent, quality public education, military families do.
Tillie Elvrum is a Director of the Board of PublicSchoolOptions.org, she currently serves as Vice President of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families and previously served on the boards of Ohio Connections Academy and the Ohio Coalition of E-school Families. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.