When my twin sons were in elementary school, both were identified as requiring special needs attention. Unfortunately, I knew their needs were not being met. We could have moved at the time, but I knew there were parents who couldn’t make these choices because of their income level.
I decided to stay put and fight for a better education for my sons and for the children of other like-minded parents. I never want a student’s right to the most optimal learning environment to be limited because of a zip code or income level.
So, in 1996, I helped open the state’s first charter school, Independence Charter Middle School, made possible because of Oklahoma’s landmark Charter School Bill. Several years later, I was asked to help establish Harding Charter Preparatory High School, which this year was ranked No. 63 school in the nation for preparing students for college by the Washington Post.
These schools serve every student who comes to them, and they are public schools. The percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced-priced meals at both is 42 and 33 percent, respectively, according to 2010 state school report cards. These schools also offer open admission to any student applying until they reach maximum enrollment of 500.
Charter schools are just one of the options available to parents and students when their local public schools are underperforming or can’t meet specific needs.
In 2010, our Legislature courageously passed the bipartisan Lindsey Nicole Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act, giving parents of special needs children the option to apply for scholarships to private schools if their children’s needs were not being met at their local public school. And in 2011, lawmakers again acted to pass the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, allowing businesses and individuals to donate to scholarship funds in exchange for tax credits, and allowing special needs or low-income students to apply for the scholarships.
Digital learning opportunities – now expanding across the nation at an almost daily pace – give students even more options. Students can now access online materials for anytime, anywhere learning.
As Gov. Mary Fallin has declared the week of Jan. 23-29 Oklahoma School Choice Week, I want to take this opportunity to say how heartily grateful and blessed I am for such choices.
Choice is good for children, it’s good for communities, and it is good for schools. Choice spurs competition. And competition spurs excellence.
Let’s remain committed as a state to expanding choice for students and parents.