Time to give students a chance, parents a choice in schools

Mendell Grinter
Mendell Grinter

Public schools are undoubtedly the foundation of America’s educational system. Rightfully so, this foundation should be secured and protected. Yet, mounting evidence, case studies, student achievement and school performance statistics reflect a system in need of improvement and repair, with low-income students of color bearing the brunt of the downfall..

Changing times reflect a need for broad changes and comprehensive educational reform. Now more than ever we need to be open minded, proactive and deliberate in finding solutions that will position more children to succeed in school, career and life and strengthen our educational system.

Campaign for School Equity aims to ensure all children, especially those of color, have access to high quality school options. This is why we, along with other local advocates for equity in education support public charter schools and recognize the opportunity they present to provide Kentucky families the additional school options their children deserve. With the Kentucky General Assembly currently considering this important legislation, now is the perfect time to increase understanding on the positive impact charter schools could have on students and families in our state.

Charter schools are public schools allowed the freedom and flexibility to be more innovative while still being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Because they are public schools, their enrollment is open to all children, and they do not charge tuition or have special entrance requirements.

Last year, the Stanford University Center for Research on Education found that students enrolled in charter schools in 41 of the nation’s urban regions learned significantly more than their traditional public school peers.

Charters also foster collaboration and innovation within traditional public school districts – working to uplift and strengthen the foundation that each rests on.

Kentucky is one of only seven states that does not allow charter schools. Despite charter schools being introduced 25 years ago and operating successfully in 43 states, and the District of Columbia, students and parents in Kentucky are being denied an alternative and fundamental right to choose what could be best for their educational journey and life outcomes.

It’s time to give our students a chance and our parents a choice.

Within Jefferson County Public Schools, there are 19 schools with priority school status — meaning students enrolled at these schools are at high risk for academic failure, not graduating high school and/or attending college. As a graduate of the school system, I know all too well what this could mean for our students.

Charter schools could give those students trapped in low-performing and under-resourced schools a way out — offering academic, cultural and enrichment opportunities that they otherwise would not have been able to access.

At this point in our nation’s history, we can no longer adhere to “one over the other” approaches to improving academic outcomes for our students. To prepare them to succeed in ever-evolving industries and globally competitive career fields, we must adopt and embrace a “both/and” approach.

So let’s continue to do all that we can to maintain traditional public schools and also support other methods that are working well.

Let’s try something new and bring charter schools to Kentucky. I believe that we owe it to our students to at least try and keep hope alive for the best outcome.

Mendell Grinter, founder and executive director of Campaign for School Equity, is a Louisville native.