School Choice in Alabama

Not long ago, Alabama parents did not have choice when it came to educating their children.  But today, many options exist.  With the passing of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) in 2013, low income parents who are zoned for a failing school can now apply for a scholarship to send their children to private school.  This year, Alabama will be opening its first charter school. There are virtual schools, blended schools, home schooling and, of course, the traditional public schools.  Now parents have options.

In Alabama, parents love their children and most will do whatever it takes for them to be happy. I have not met a parent that said “I don’t care about these kids.”  For too long, others have been making decisions for low-income and minority children concerning their education–decisions that they wouldn’t make for their own children.  And for too long, many of these kids have been falling through the crack.  As a community, we cannot do better until we ensure that our kids are given a fighting chance to succeed in life and escape the traps of perpetual poverty. A quality education can help with that.

There are many excuses as to why kids haven’t learned what’s needed: “They didn’t have breakfast,” “They are being raised by a grandparent,”  ”They come from a single parent home,” “They don’t do their homework,” and more. But there are many schools with the same demographics in other parts of the country, that have overcome these hurdles.  Sometimes it just takes a different environment to make a difference.  An environment where everyone believes that kids can succeed.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to education.  Adults assimilate information at different rates.  Kids assimilate information at different rates.  Some adults prefer large groups, some prefer small groups.  Some kids can do OK in a large group, but some kids need a small group to succeed. But whatever our kids need to succeed, they NEED it.  The adults need to go the extra mile to determine what those needs are and provide access to them.

Parents must be given the opportunity to choose what they feel will be the best environment for their children. It breaks my heart when a parent calls and says, “This school is not working for my child, and there is nothing I can do about it.  I don’t want my child to become a statistic.  Please help me.”  Most low income parents can’t just pick up and move to a “good” school district.  Just because some think that a school district is “good,” still does not mean that it will be good for your child.  Again “one size fits all” does not work in education.  We might live right next door to each other and the zoned school might work well for you, but not for me.  Ultimately, what matters is that our children get the education they deserve.

Our kids need to know that someone cares about them and their future.  They need to know that they are more than just a number on a roster.  They need to know that we value them as members of our society.  They need to know that we are there to help them become productive members of our society.  They need to know that their dreams and ambitions can be obtained.  If this does not happen, the kids have not failed—we have.