Opinion: A parent’s perspective on charter schools

Opinion: A parent’s perspective on charter schools

By Selena Rodgers Dickerson

I grew up in a small, but close-knit neighborhood in west Birmingham. My parents worked hard to provide a safe environment and good education for my brothers and me. I attended the neighborhood school for a few years, but my parents thought it best to enroll me in a private school that offered smaller classroom sizes and more direct teacher/student interaction. My parents made tremendous sacrifices to ensure they provide us a quality education. This foundation prepared me to excel in a public magnet program for high school. I later graduated college with a civil engineering degree.

While living in Atlanta – a city with many high-quality charter schools – I was introduced to the concept and potential of public charter schools. A few years later, I moved back to Birmingham and though I was not a parent, I embraced the opportunity to work with my church and other community leaders to provide parents with school choice. I believed children should not be penalized or limited in their educational opportunities because of their zip codes. In 2015, state lawmakers listened to the voices of the community and passed a law allowing the creation of public charter schools in Alabama; however, while this expansion of public school options for families was a great step forward, a new challenge has surfaced: inequitable funding.

Today, I am grateful that my daughter has the opportunity to attend i3 Academy, one of Birmingham’s two public charter schools. However, although i3 Academy adheres to and administers the same statewide assessments and is graded on student learning, similarly to every other public school within the state, i3 faces the disparity of inadequate public school funding. Public charter schools simply do not receive the same funding as traditional public schools.

Charter schools are public schools. Period. However, charter schools are provided far fewer resources. Parents of children educated in charter schools deserve, as taxpayers of Alabama, the right to have their tax dollars follow their children regardless of which school they “choose” is best for their children’s matriculation.

A student in a district-run traditional public school in Birmingham receives an average of $4,000 more in education funding than students in a charter-run public school. Every child deserves the right to an equitable education and it is our responsibility as adults to ensure we tear down the barriers, both fiscal and geographical, for every child in our state.

Senate Bill 387 seeks to resolve this issue. The bill would ensure all public school students – including charter school students – receive equitable funding through access to shared local tax dollars.

I am again thankful to lawmakers for proposing this important piece of legislation and I encourage every member of the Alabama legislature to wholeheartedly support it.

Approval of SB 387 is a step in providing the equity and opportunity for every child in rural, urban, or suburban Alabama. After all, we cannot preach equality and equity and then not give all of our children the resources and financial support they need and deserve. This is our responsibility.

Selena and her family live in Jefferson County.