Families like mine can't wait any longer

National School Choice Rally at the Texas Capitol on Jan. 24, 2017. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Every kid grows up with big dreams for their future, and as a parent, my biggest hope is to give my kids what they need to make those dreams come true. I know that a quality education is critical to prepare children to accomplish what their hearts desire and unleash their potential. I also know that one of the most important ingredients needed for my daughter to achieve her dreams is a great school where she can learn and grow.

My daughter was going into second grade when we moved to Williamson County. I searched far and wide for a school that checked all our boxes. For us, it was our local public charter school that had everything we could hope for: strong academic outcomes, dedicated and passionate teachers and a best-in-class language and culture program.

Prior to this experience, I had many misperceptions about Texas public charter schools. But once I was able to see this school in action, I realized that charters are public schools simply allowed the freedom to innovate while still being held accountable for student performance and achievement.

We applied to Meridian for the first time in 2015 with high hopes and fingers crossed. We were impressed by their International Baccalaureate program, which at this school spans K-12 and allows students to learn multiple languages and build the skills to navigate a complex world.

We were impressed by that program’s interdisciplinary approach, which allows students to learn multiple languages and build the skills to navigate a complex world. My husband and I are both bilingual and it is important that our daughter is both intellectually challenged while maintaining aspects our culture, and learning the skills to succeed in an increasingly multicultural world.

Much to our dismay, we did not make the cut and were placed on a waitlist. Despite this setback, I was not discouraged. Every year, when enrollment came around, I would once again enter my daughter into the lottery for the precious few spots available at charter schools in Austin. I know my daughter deserves only the best education and I will not settle for less.

Fast-forward five years: My daughter is now entering 6th grade, and I am trying to enroll her at the local public charter school for the fifth time. Each year, she has been placed on the waitlist. While it is frustrating to come up short, we refuse to compromise on our child’s future.

Sadly enough, I know my story is not unique. This is the case for thousands of families across the Austin area. Recent data released by the Texas Charter Schools Association shows over 25,000 students enrolled in charter schools, while nearly 10,000 remain on waitlists. That’s nearly 10,000 families either forced to stick with the status quo or pin their hopes on a charter school lottery.

Despite the clear and overwhelming demand by Austin families for public charter schools, there are still not enough seats available for students like my daughter. What's worse, some of our elected leaders are proposing an outright ban on new charter schools across Texas. Our elected officials put up roadblocks to expanding high-performing public charter schools, with some proposing an outright ban to new charter schools across Texas. These policies prioritize a one-size-fits-all approach to education and do a disservice to Texas parents and children. We should be offering parents more choice in the public education system — not less.

When we talk about policy in the abstract, it is easy to lose sight what’s at stake and who is affected.

My daughter remains on a waitlist, but that need not be the case for her or for the thousands of other families who are patiently waiting for their opportunity at a great education. We can make quality schools accessible to Austin-area families.

I am sharing my story because the thousands of students on waitlists are not just numbers or statistics — they are real kids with hopes, dreams and bright futures ahead of them. It is time we give them the education they deserve.