Though once rejected, school choice benefited my family

Photo by Steve Moakley

The topic of school choice is more popular than ever before. Like all policies and beliefs, there are positive and negative sides to this movement.

Some believe school choice gentrifies poor areas, while others see it as a catalyst of competition and pushes schools to raise the bar in what they can offer. But I see school choice as the ability for parents to speak for what they know is best for their child.

When my children first began their educations, I didn’t have any idea of what school choice meant or could mean. Education was simply a school assigned by your address and zip code. The choice for my three children to graduate high school, or even college, was out of my hands and determined by our place of residence.

The story of my first contact with IDEA Public Schools is unique because of my first impression. I didn’t accept IDEA with loving arms and neither did the other families at my child’s school at the time.

When IDEA first planted roots in Austin in 2012, families in my neighborhood picketed and protested in fear that local schools would close down in its place.

As some parents in other localities may feel right now, we weren’t sure what the outcome for our children would be.

According to a study by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a survey of 1,003 parents with school-aged children, almost 80 percent of parents believed they should have the right to choose which public school their child attends. Parents want choice, regardless of where they live.

School choice gives parents the power to decide where their child will be educated. This choice is critical because parents know their child best, and know which type of education better suits their child’s needs and learning style.

With more choices than before, parents can choose private, public or even homeschooling to best support these needs.

This choice has always existed for parents who were able to afford an alternate type of education. But for others, that option was far out of reach due to financial costs.

Today, the lack of options hardly exists in our society. Many states have begun to enact policies that enable a wide variety of education choices for families of all kinds, but some may not know of these opportunities.

I was like that. A few weeks after IDEA set roots in our neighborhood, a relative of mine became the second employee hired at this new campus, called IDEA Allan. Her early positive experience motivated me to research this new public charter school and understand its mission for students within the area.

To my surprise, there were promises of 100 percent graduation and 100 percent college acceptance for their scholars. I knew I had to take the chance.

According to the National Alliance survey, parents had favorable opinions about charter schools before they received a definition or more information about them. Once parents were given the definition of a charter school, the percentage of a positive views from parents increased to more than 70 percent, with 38 percent saying they had a very positive view.

Once I heard about IDEA and its mission, I submitted an application to ensure my children were included in IDEA's annual student lottery, which ensures every student has a fair chance to attend one of their schools. Beyond that, they have no admission requirements.

Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), dispersed a report identifying IDEA Public Schools as “one of the highest performing public school networks in the country, delivering the equivalent of 80 extra days in math and 74 days in reading instructions per year.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, over $634 billion is spent on public elementary and secondary schools annually, while graduation rates for minorities fall below the average graduation rate of 84.1 percent — at 79.3 percent for Hispanic students and 76.4 percent for black students.

Throughout the years, we’ve seen the positive impact the school has had in our neighborhood and family. Today, all three of my children attend IDEA Allan, and each day, they come home with sharpened skills and a motivation to reach their full potential.

Each receives individualized learning in the classroom and understands the importance of team and family.

CREDO also found that annual academic growth rises over time for students who remain in charter schools.

Not only do I see the growth in my children, I see it in myself. I began working at IDEA Allan as a receptionist when my children began attending, and today I’m an SIS Coordinator. My co-workers saw the potential in me and cross-trained me for the position I have today.

Overall, the study points out that charter schools can be a model of practices that push academic growth.

IDEA believed in my ability to choose the best fit for my children's education, and they stood with me.

IDEA Public Schools has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Melissa Salinas

SIS Coordinator, IDEA Allan Public Schools

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