Tonight, the Democratic candidates for president will hold yet another debate, and likely, say very little about education. That’s why I rallied last night with parents from all over Houston to send a message loud and clear: #SaveOurCharterSchools.
When Bernie Sanders calls for a moratorium on new hope for our kids, we say, “Save our charter schools!” When even Joe Biden, who supported charter schools as vice president, now backs away from them, it is time for parents to remind politicians why charter schools exist and why families still need them.
Josua's Charter School Story
In 2018, my son Josua graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering. He is our family’s first college graduate. But that only happened because our family found a charter school that changed his life.
Back when Josua was in middle school, my husband and I started getting calls about him disrupting his class. Because he was finishing his work early and getting bored, he often landed in trouble for talking. We soon realized his school was not working for him and we had to find a more challenging school where he would thrive.
But where we live there are only two choices—private schools and traditional public schools. We did not have the means to place Josua in a private school or to move our family. Friends and family told us about charter schools. At the time, we did not understand much about what a charter school was, but we heard they were challenging students and sending them to college. We knew we wanted that for Josua.
We were blessed that our family found a home at YES Prep Public Charter Schools in Houston. It was a challenge to drive far to send Josua to YES Prep Gulfton, but it was worth it. We were willing to make the sacrifice for his education.
Josua thrived at Gulfton. I remember him telling me, “Mom, I don’t want to join the soccer team because I want to concentrate on my studies.” I cried. What parent could ask more of their child?
Later, he took Advanced Placement courses and visited various colleges on his class trips in both the fall and spring. He built relationships with college recruiters and learned about all his options while selecting a major. When it came time to choose between college offers, Josua was struggling to decide between a free ride at Iowa State University and a more expensive opportunity at an Ivy League university. Mr. Goldin, then the principal, advised Josua to take the free money and save student loans for graduate school. He made Josua realize it’s not where you got your degree that counts, but what you do with it.
What high school does this for their students? To this day, it still puts a smile on my face to know that my husband and I were a team with the teachers and principal at YES Prep Gulfton.
Across Houston, parents like us are not waiting on the Houston Independent School District to fix the issues in its public schools. No parent wants to knowingly plant their child in a school that could hurt them and stunt their academic growth. Instead, they are finding other school options that will support their child’s needs, including charter schools.
Josua was one of the lucky ones because we found a charter school that changed his life. All kids should be in a school that best fits their needs. If a charter school meets those needs, then it should not be taken away. Our charter school offered me a feeling of home. Not only did my son thrive there, but it became the place where I thrived and became a more involved parent.
So here’s my message for any presidential candidate who wants to take this option away: Don’t forget that every child has unique learning needs and deserves a supportive educational environment. No matter what a parent’s economic background or race is, they have a right to choose a school that works for their child. When you say you don’t support charter schools, you are saying you don’t support children who attend charter schools.
Public charter schools do not seek to replace traditional public schools, but rather to complement them, providing alternatives to the existing system. Charter schools are better for some students, not all. Public charter schools are options for families who need educational options the most. As a Latinx mom, I’m proud that I chose a charter school for my son. It was the best choice for him. Don’t take that choice away from families.
Wendy Gonzales-Neal is the wife of a Marine, the mother of four, the grandmother of two and the Founder and Executive Director of My Child My Voice in Houston, Texas. My Child My Voice, works to provide low-income parents with informational, financial and personal resources they need to choose, and actively participate in, the ...