What’s a mother to say to politicians who want to consign her children to failing schools or limit their opportunities for a brighter future?
I ask this question of state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and the cosponsors of his bill to block any new public charter schools from starting – or existing ones from expanding – in 89 of Illinois’ highest-need school districts.
Have they even thought about the real-life consequences of their legislation for thousands of Chicago parents and their children?
My family lives on Chicago’s West Side in a home that my grandmother purchased almost 60 years ago. After moving back to Chicago with two young children and needing to find a suitable school, I was disappointed to find that the traditional public school in our neighborhood was not up to standards.
So my choices as a parent were to sell a home that had been in my family for generations or to try to scrape up the money for a private education for my children. I chose to go the private school route. At some point however, as a single mother, it became impossible for me to keep both of my children in private school. I had to make the heartbreaking choice of which child to move to public school and which to keep in private school.
Fortunately, I had a third choice. Through sheer luck and the day before school started, I found a high-performing public charter school close to my home. That’s how my son Cory ended up enrolled at Legal Prep Charter Academy — where today, he is a senior and the class valedictorian.
At Legal Prep, Cory is already being prepared for a successful career. The school has a number of partnerships with local law firms to give students practical experience in the law. From mock trial competitions, to negotiation lessons, to the variety of volunteer opportunities that local legal professionals and law students have provided to Cory and his classmates — these are the type of opportunities I could only dream of as a student.
But the bill would take away the option to attend additional schools like Legal Prep from thousands of families in the very districts across our state where children need a public alternative to schools that are inadequate or failing.
All across Chicago, there are thousands of families like mine who have found an affordable alternative to neighborhood schools within the Chicago Public Schools system. But instead of accommodating the hopes and dreams of striving parents and children, the politicians behind this legislation have opted to foreclose on them. What’s more, the bill doesn’t impact other schools of choice like magnet schools – it focuses squarely on charters.
What’s most infuriating is that their logic is completely backward. It’s precisely the children in these financially stressed school districts that most need alternatives to failing schools and foreclosed futures. Instead, Rep. Guzzardi would leave them without additional public school choices or alternatives.
We’re just trying to do right by our children. So do right by us.
LaNorra Dennis is a charter school parent and advocate. This essay is based on a speech she gave opposing a bill calling for putting a moratorium on charter schools.