School choice isn’t just about charter schools, but allowing students to attend the schools that help them thrive, regardless of zip code. Jason Egly is a Nashville public school teacher and a father of three daughters. Thanks to the Nashville’s school choice policies, when his family recently moved, all three of his children were able to enroll at the schools they planned on attending before the move. But Egly is aware many families are not as fortunate as his. They don’t have the luxury of moving into the right zip code or knowing how to navigate the intricacies of selecting and applying for schools. He sees the difficulties his own students undergo. “Many of them don’t have the options that my own kids have,” Egly says. “Or if they do have the options, they are not aware of their options. It saddens me.” Egly’s own experiences with school choice affirm his belief that expanding options for parents is essential.
“We shouldn't force kids in a one-size-fits-all form of education. We need to meet them at their needs.” Egly’s oldest daughter is now a seventh-grader at Harpeth Hall, a private all-girls school in Nashville. But initially, as she was preparing to head to middle school, she was set on attending a magnet school and entered the school’s lottery. “We really had gone all in with the magnet program,” says Egly. “Of course, I’ve been a public school teacher, and that was the only option we were considering that was within the public school district.” His daughter’s number wasn’t drawn and she was placed far down on the waiting list. Afterwards, a friend approached Egly about applying to Harpeth Hall. He was hesitant because of the cost of attendance, but after she was accepted, the need-based financial aid package made it a feasible option for his family. But just because one daughter went there, didn’t mean his other daughters would attend. Egly’s middle daughter is a fifth-grader at Valor Collegiate, a public charter school. As a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), she needed more than what a traditional public school could provide her. After they toured the school and saw its strong social-emotional learning program, Egly knew it was the right place for her. And he’s been happy with the individualized attention the school gives to her. “She’s had a phenomenal educator that has worked with her this year who has absolutely met her specific individual needs,” he says. “Above and beyond.” Before sending his daughter to Valor Collegiate, Egly heard an oft-repeated falsehood that charter schools do not deal with hard-to-teach students, but he says that’s not true. Also not true is that they all endorse zero- or no-excuses discipline policies. “That’s an absolute lie,” says Egly. “I’ve got a kid with pretty significant learning differences and a traumatic history and she is from another country.” He adds, “Not only have they educated her, they have welcomed her with open arms. They have allowed her to be in an environment where she is thriving.” His youngest daughter is a fourth-grader who attends traditional public school. Even after Egly moved out of the school zone, a waiver from the principal allowed her to attend the school for her final year. “We had other options for her, but we have chosen to let her stay there through her fourth-grade year,” Egly says. “We are grateful for that choice. While the other two have thrived in their environment, she is thriving at Percy Priest.” Egly, who is completing his sixth year of teaching, says he believes that parents, who are their children’s first teachers, know what’s best for their children. “I can’t believe it’s the 21st century, it’s 2016, and we are still having this discussion of a bureaucracy telling parents where and how to educate their children.”