Ellen Weaver

Expand Access To School Choice

April 22, 2016

Ellen Weaver

This Letter To The Editor was written by Ellen Weaver and was published in The Post and Courier on 4/22/16.

As we celebrate the remembrance of Passover I was interested to note the repeated use of the word “exodus” in The Post and Courier’s article: Schools continue struggle with exodus of students under school choice.

The original Exodus story recounts the miraculous delivery of God’s children from oppression. And in the context of this recent article, in which the reporter writes of another class of students being forced to “weather the consequences of school choice,” one has to wonder if the author has confused the source of oppression (chronically failing schools) with the means of deliverance (school choice).

An antiquated education model and a deeply ingrained cycle of poverty — not school choice — have been responsible for multiple generations of lost student potential in the tri-county area. If anything, school choice should be thanked for shining a bright spotlight on the dire plight of the children — children too often overlooked and forgotten.

The fact is, school choice is already working across the nation to empower parents — whatever their economic status — with a sense of efficacy and hope that the lives of their children can be better with the opportunity of a high quality education.

Parents across the demographic spectrum in Charleston are voting with their feet, and they should be applauded, not condemned. Likewise, teachers and school leaders who pour their hearts and souls into the lives of these children should be thanked for their often heroic triage efforts in a system that is outdated and not designed to effectively handle the needs of a diverse and changing student population.

So have we arrived in the Promised Land? Not by a long shot. At a recent community meeting in North Charleston, one speaker reminded us that “choice without transportation is not a choice.”

We agree. South Carolina does not currently support all of its public school choices with transportation and facilities funding — realities that create a significant barrier to access for many students.

The answer to the vexing problems identified by The Post and Courier’s “Left Behind” series is more choices for parents to access, not fewer. And I would invite community leaders who are calling for students to be returned to schools that are not currently preparing them for success to instead join the student-centered exodus refrain of “let my people go.”

You can learn more about school choice here.