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School Choice = Options

By Gloria Romero, DFER CA State Director

As National School Choice Week kicked off in LA on Friday with the Whistle Stop Train Tour, I was reminded of countless conversations I’ve had about the best ways to improve the academic performance of California’s kids.

Throughout my tenure as a state senator, California struggled to provide all of its students with a high-quality education. According to the recently released Quality Counts Report by Education Week, California is ranked 33rd in terms of state academic performance.

What I’ve learned over the years is that there is no one silver bullet. I have found, however, that school choice can play a significant role in improving the success of our students.

The vast majority of California’s students attend public schools. Up until 1992 when the first public charter school law was enacted, parents did not have a lot of options for where to send their kids to school. Many had to settle for whatever school landed in their district, regardless of quality.

While in office, I authored the state’s Parent Trigger law, which enables parents to come together to transform their kids’ chronically low performing schools, and the state’s Open Enrollment Act, which provides students stuck in low-achieving schools with the option to enroll in a higher performing school. These laws followed the onset of public charter schools in the 90s and together they have greatly expanded the pool of educational options in California. The state now leads the nation in the number of charter schools with approximately 1,000, which account for just under 10 percent of the public schools in our state.

Public charter schools and open enrollment policies have given many families more opportunities for their kids. And, when you’re a family facing the possibility of having to send your kid to a failing school because of your zip code, that’s a blessing.

Charter schools and open enrollment are not a panacea. But what they do provide, particularly for students living in low-income areas with poor-performing neighborhood schools, are options. Many of these options have the potential to provide low-income students with a better chance of success.

Camino Nuevo Academy #2 public charter school in Los Angeles, for example, is one such school that is producing high success rates for its students. At Camino, where 95% of kids are on free or reduced lunch, 83% of students are proficient in Math and 85% are proficient in English. These scores are close to double the state average. Celebrating school choice means celebrating the fact that families have the power to send their kids to schools like Camino Nuevo Academy #2.

Unfortunately, not every family has a high-performing public charter school in their area or is eligible for open enrollment. Other families are unaware of their options or are forced to place their kids on waiting lists to attend a high-performing charter school due to a lack of space. But these are not the only obstacles facing parents. School choice options and the laws that create them are under regular attack from special interests supporting the status quo.

As a former state senator, education activist, and now California state director of Democrats for Education Reform, I’ve focused much of my career on changing the status quo and on improving educational outcomes for California’s kids. It is my hope that through National School Choice Week, we can spread the message about the necessity for high-quality school choice options.

During National School Choice Week more than 3,000 events across all 50 states will take place. These events will offer an opportunity for all of us who care about our kids’ futures, in California and around the country, to come together to celebrate school choice and recognize that we still have a lot of work to do if we want to ensure every child has access to high quality schools. (See the list of events here.)

Whether you support public charter schools, open enrollment, opportunity scholarships, or vouchers, we all have one thing we can come together to fight for - options for our kids.

Gloria Romero is the CA State Director of DFER. She was elected to the 24th Senate District in 2001, representing East Los Angeles and the greater San Gabriel Valley. She was elected by her peers to serve as Senate Democratic Caucus Chair and as Senate Majority Leader--the first woman to ever hold that leadership position in the history of the California State Senate. Read more about Gloria here.