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Marleny Olivo: Palm Beach School Board should stop attacking charter school students

This week I asked to join litigation against the Palm Beach County School Board. As a working mother of two young sons, this is not a battle I wanted to fight.

But I have little choice. The school board is mistreating charter school students, including my younger son.

Board members have filed a lawsuit against House Bill 7069, which the Florida Legislature adopted last Session. This bill requires all education dollars to be spent on public school students equally, including charter students. But the board doesn’t want to comply.

It is ridiculous for the board to think district school students deserve more money than those in charter schools.

Charter schools, after all, are public schools. They are funded by public dollars, though managed privately. They must meet strict standards, and they’re closed if they receive failing grades or don’t meet parents’ expectations.

Yet the school board wants to disregard its obligation to the county’s charter students.

This is why I have joined the Academy for Positive Learning, which my 10-year-old son attends, in filing a motion to intervene in the school board’s lawsuit.

The board’s opposition to equalizing education funding is only the latest of its efforts to undermine charter schools. It consistently has rejected charter school applications, denying all the applications it received in 2014-2015.

When its rejection of one charter was overturned on appeal by the Florida Department of Education, the school board litigated all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, where it lost in September.

This animosity toward charter schools hurts children. Tens of thousands of charter school parents in Palm Beach County, like me, know first-hand what the charter option can mean to a child.

My 13-year-old attends a district school and has always done well. But my younger son had trouble at a district school, particularly with bullying. The state’s charter school option allowed me to enroll him in the Academy for Positive Learning, where he is safe and knows any bullying will be addressed immediately.

At the district school, he was distracted and his grades were inconsistent. With fewer students per class at the Academy, he now makes mostly A’s.

Opponents sometimes characterize charter schools as “cherry-picking” the “best” students. But more than 85 percent of Academy students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and a quarter of its students are English-language learners. Yet the Academy is an “A” school.

Like school board members, I want strong district schools, which do a fine job for most students, such as my older son. But not all students learn in the same manner or at the same pace. Charter schools can offer programs designed for students who struggle in the typical classroom setting.

A study released by the state Department of Education this year found charter students, particularly minority students, are making significant academic gains and frequently outperform their peers in district schools.

So why would the school board oppose these alternatives?

The school board has argued the state’s charter policies take education decisions “out of the hands of local voters.” But in fighting charter schools, the board is taking education decisions out of the hands of parents.

As a parent, I love school choice, but fair funding for charters is necessary to make that choice meaningful.

The Palm Beach County School Board should stop pitting district students against charter students and focus on giving all our children the best education possible.

___

Marleny Olivo lives in West Palm Beach.

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