Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Power of Parents Shines at D.C. Council Hearing

Nearly a dozen parents were in attendance for today's D.C. Council hearing.
 Parents, advocates, charter school administers, and students took time out of their schedules today to go to the Wilson Building, home of the D.C. City Council. 

But they weren’t there to sight-see—they were there to there to testify during a hearing on the FY2013 education budget. 

Led by Chairman Kwame Brown, who is a strong supporter of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), the hearing included testimony from charter school leaders, parents, and others in support of the District’s three-sector funding initiative—an approach where D.C. public schools, charter schools, and the highly-successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program are equally and additionally funded beyond what would originally be the case.  Congress renewed their support for the three-sector approach when it reauthorized the OSP back in April 2011.

But the most convincing testimony of all did not speak of budget shortfalls, lack of fairness, and the depressingly low educational outcomes of far too many District children (all important things, of course).  The parents who spoke told the real story. 

Sheila Jackson has been a part of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for seven years.  Her daughter, Shawnee is thriving in her school and doing well in math—a subject in which she has always struggled.  Here is what she told the council:

Chairman Brown, council members Yvette Alexander, Marion Barry, and Muriel Bowser, thank you for your support of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.  I am grateful for this opportunity to speak before the city council today.

I am a divorced mother of two.  I have a sixteen year old daughter who is and has been a recipient of the Opportunity Scholarship for seven years.  The scholarship program has been the difference in Shawnee having to attend an underperforming schools that was not safe to her now attending a school that meets her needs and where I know she is safe.

My daughter attended DC Public School though fourth grade.  I was not pleased with the overcrowded classrooms, teachers having to share teacher aides, purchase supplies with their own money, children so unruly the police had to be frequently called because they were a threat to the rest of the student body.

I could not allow the DC Public School system to fail my daughter and I knew this if she continued in DC Public Schools that would surely be the case.  Shawnee was struggling in math and her teacher was not willing to do anything outside of her lesson plan to help my daughter.

She blatantly told me that if my daughter did not get it than she was sorry.  The school she was attending was an underperforming school as were most of the schools in my ward.  During her last year in the DC Public School system, I learned about a tutoring program for low-income families under the No Child Left Behind Program.  I applied for my daughter and she was accepted.

After an assessment of her by the assigned tutor, it was discovered that she was intimidated by math.  Ms. John, her tutor who is currently a Professor at the University of Oklahoma, worked with Shawnee through the remainder of the school year.  There was a tremendous improvement in her math grades.

That was her last year in DC Public Schools.  During that year, I learned about and applied for the Opportunity Scholarship Program and Shawnee was accepted.  She is now a junior in high school attending the Preparatory School of DC, an honor roll student and making plans for college.

Not only has the OSP provided me a choice for my daughter, but also for many other parents.  I stand today asking those of the council that support the program for their continued support and those that don’t, to please re-evaluate your views of the OSP.  We all want our children to get the best education possible, but are not always financially able to afford private schools.  The OSP provides parents, like myself, to choose a school well suited for their children and to receive a quality education.  Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you today.

The second parent to speak was Ruth Reynoso, who has applied this year for her daughter to participate in the program.  She is waiting to hear if her daughter will win the lottery for a coveted scholarship.

I want to thank you for giving me the chance to talk about the Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Thank you for your strong support.  It means a lot to those of us who are trying to choose a better education for our children.

I am waiting to hear news about the application for my daughter.  My older child went to a private school because I wanted a better educational opportunity for them.  However, I was working back then and at the time could afford the tuition amount.

Now that I no longer work, I cannot afford to pay the tuition, but want the same opportunities for my younger child that my older child had.  There is no help for someone like me to pay the tuition at a private school so the Opportunity Scholarship Program represents a real choice for me as a parent to do the best that I can do for my child’s education and her future.

It was disappointing to read that the Mayor did not fund the Opportunity Scholarship Program in his budget.  The program is nothing more than a chance at a better education for my child and I can’t understand why anyone would want to be against helping children across this city have a better educational future.

Thank you again for supporting this choice for me and I hope that more parents will be able to take advantage of this program in the future.

To learn more about the amazing results of the OSP, click here.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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