Education Can Be Flexible
This op-ed was originally published in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch on January 29th, 2021. You can read the original article here.
My husband and I live in West Virginia, and we are expecting our fourth child in March.
Our oldest child is entering kindergarten in the fall. My husband’s public school experience was short-lived because he was the victim of bullying so excessive that his parents were forced to send him to private school for the remainder of his education.
His experience may not be the same experience that our children have, but it is important to us to have a choice in the schooling of our children. Every child is different, and not every school will be a good fit for every family, even if it’s a “great” school by traditional educational standards.
We love West Virginia. It’s a beautiful state with a lot of potential, and we wish to stay. But the lack of school choice here has caused us to have a lot of conversations about whether we wish to stay or go as our children reach school age.
Even if we both work, we cannot afford private school for four children. I am not ready to give up my professional life to homeschool full-time. It feels like an overwhelming challenge to find options that we can both afford and live with.
Our only affordable school choice isn’t a choice at all; we are limited to the school that is assigned to serving children in our ZIP code.
The school in our ZIP code isn’t terrible; it’s in the top 10 in the state. That’s not saying much, though, when your state is ranked 49th for educational outcomes in the nation.
West Virginia until recently did not have any allowances for public charter schools. The state’s first attempt at legislating school choice was struck down in response to a statewide teacher’s union strike. Despite the special interest opposition, in 2019 the state passed their first state charter school legislation.
Our county was the first to have an application for a charter school. We were so excited. Finally an option that wouldn’t cost me my job or suck up all our income!
It was not meant to be, however. Our charter school “public information session” was dominated by a massive teacher’s union rally held outside the building. Rally attendees took up nearly every public comment spot allotted. I had to arrive an hour early just to be allowed to comment. I was shocked at how the union members proceeded to bully and demean parents who just wanted a choice in educational options.
Before this meeting I felt neutral about my children attending the existing public school; I just wanted an option “in case.” After witnessing this meeting, I absolutely do not want my children to be taught by members of an organization that encourages this bullying behavior.
Ultimately and predictably, the charter school application was denied by the board of education. Why would they approve it after a “public information session” like that? We hope our legislature will rectify this problem with the charter school application process.
Any kind of school choice would be a game-changer for our family. All families should have school choice opportunities. It’s incredibly unfair, especially to students who live in lower income areas, to limit families to only one choice based on ZIP code.
This is National School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30). I’m thinking about how if we want our children to succeed, they need access to opportunities with some flexibility to fit their needs. That’s all parents want: the ability to give our children the best chance to thrive. Is that so much to ask?
Katie Switzer is a resident of Morgantown.