For Representative Angela Williams of Colorado, educational choice is all about what’s right for the kids and what’s right for the teachers. Her district was one of the hardest hit by economic downturn, and a lot of funding for education comes from property taxes. Unapologetically, Rep. Williams speaks up for kids and families who need high-quality public school options. “It is not a Republican or a Democrat issue. It’s an issue for our kids,” she insists. She went on to explain, “I received a lot of push back from the African-American community. But I cannot stand by and allow kids to go to failing schools.”
Rep. Williams was a business woman for 14 years and serves as Majority Caucus Chair as well as Co-Chair of the Colorado Black Democratic Legislative Caucus. She represents a diverse community and is a strong voice for improving education in Colorado’s public schools. She stated that she carries certain legislation that increases school choice because of her passion- not politics. Rep. Williams is a fearless voice for equitable mill sharing and appropriating funding for facilities and buildings. She calls for a level playing field for all types of public schools, including charter schools. A key ingredient to the success of charter schools in Denver is equitability and fairness to all kids, including the ones in Rep. Williams’ district. This cooperation at the local level is achieved by including as many community stakeholders as possible, and strong leadership like that of the representative and other community leaders is crucial.
Funding for charter schools in Colorado is allocated with an equitable approach. In the Denver area, charter school networks such as DSST and Strive are flourishing thanks to cooperation in sharing tax dollars at the state and local level. However, this philosophy of collaboration that has fed the success of Denver charter schools is nonexistent in many states. In Georgia, local school boards and professional organizations that represent the interests of adults and lobby for legislation, such as the Georgia Association of Educators and the Georgia School Superintendents Association, put up roadblocks to the success and growth of charter schools at every juncture.
The Georgia Charter Schools Association website states that “finding a facility can be the biggest stumbling block to launching a charter school in Georgia.” Charter schools must lease and maintain facilities out of general operating funds. Traditional public schools do not have to rent buildings for their schools, but local school districts are frequently unwilling to cooperate in allowing charter schools to utilize available buildings. It is common in Georgia to see buildings owned by school districts going unused and falling into disrepair. Georgia passed a law in 2013 to provide access to unused buildings but little has changed in how local school districts handle the vacant properties, which were paid for with taxpayer dollars for the education of all students.
Today, charter schools serve students in 43 states and are usually attended by students from diverse communities. Over 2.5 million students currently attend charter schools in the United States. These public schools successfully educate students from low-income homes in neighborhoods where traditional public schools are failing. Persistent attempts to marginalize, limit, and weaken charter schools simply make no sense. Shouldn’t Americans be willing to use public taxpayer dollars to educate kids in an environment that is safe and where innovation is breaking the monotony of dropout factories that fail kids year after year? It only seems fair.
-by Rhonda Gatch