By almost any measure, children in Kentucky are in an educational crisis and that crisis is most profound for black children.
Last year in Kentucky, 52 percent of black fourth-graders and 44 percent of black eighth-graders fell short of the proficiency mark in reading and math; 35 percent of black fourth-graders and 51 percent of black eight-graders scored "below basic."
In the face of such staggering data, the status quo is hard to defend.
The Black Alliance for Educational Options has long supported charter schools as one way to give low-income and working-class black families better options for their childrens' education. And as we celebrate National Charter Schools Week, we want to educate others on the potential of charter schools.
Charter schools are unique public schools allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Because they are public schools, they are open to all children, do not charge tuition and do not have special entrance requirements. Charter schools were created to help improve our public school system and offer parents another public option to better meet their child's specific needs.
Successful charter schools in other states have taken advantage of the freedom they are afforded to extend the school day, adjust the curriculum, create a distinctive culture or special theme and develop groundbreaking learning models that redefine the classroom and reflect the latest teacher training research.
Like other public schools, charters are funded by local, state and federal tax dollars based on enrollment and are open to anyone.
Kentucky is one of just seven states that do not have charter legislation. As a latecomer to the table, the Bluegrass state is in a great position to craft a law that draws on the lessons of other states and incorporates the best elements of tried-and-true programs.
Quality is at the core of BAEO's mission. We don't simply want more options for low-income black families, we want better options — high-performing schools that deliver on their promises. The current system lacks charters' "do-or-die" push to succeed. Absent any genuine sense of urgency, too many traditional schools have failed to meet students' needs — year after year — and the students themselves bear the only real repercussions.
Some argue that more time and money are all that's needed to fix failing schools. But parents are understandably impatient and are fueling a groundswell of support for charter schools.
A recent BAEO survey of black voters, selected at random, showed overwhelming support for charter schools: 64 percent of black voters of all ages; 77 percent of black mothers. The survey also showed 65 percent of black parents would not send their children to their assigned public school if they had a choice.
At a time when increasing the educational quality afforded to all children is our most urgent priority, elected leaders in Kentucky should be on the front line demanding bold action. It's time we stopped propping up failing schools and worrying about the adults in the system and started focusing on our children. We need bold, decisive leaders who are willing to put politics and fear aside and put children first.
An excellent education remains the great equalizer. Giving low-income black families access to high-quality public charter schools would go a long way toward leveling the playing field in Kentucky and preparing all students for success. To see the true promise of charter schools, lawmakers must open their eyes to the reality of being poor and black in Kentucky; then open their minds to the opportunity before them.
Mendell Grinter is state director of Kentucky Black Alliance for Educational Options.