Marsha Edwards: District, charter teachers all in this together

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As an educator who has taught in both district-run and charter public schools, I am astounded when I read articles or hear claims from school board members around the state charter schools take away funding from the local public-school system.

That is not the case.

Charter schools provide options for families who can’t afford to live in communities with A-rated neighborhood schools. Every student deserves the same opportunity to be educated, and charters just open another door for them to receive what they rightfully deserve.

These parents should not be shamed for their choices.

What’s more, my own experience in Hillsborough County shows charter schools are partners in our local public-school system.

I have lived in the Riverview area for five years and I have seen tremendous growth in the area. With many homes being built, new families with children have moved to this part of the county. Now nearby schools, especially high-performing ones, have become overcrowded. Charter schools like BridgePrep Academy, where I teach kindergarten, help relieve the strain on the school district.

Our school helps students reach the same standards as other public schools, and offers an environment where instruction is more individualized and tailored to each student’s needs.

I can personally attest, as both a teacher and a parent. I have experienced hardship securing a quality education for my own children. When I relocated to Hillsborough County from Miami-Dade in 2012, I was faced with minimal educational choices. My children were zoned to a school that had received consecutive D’s. For me, it was not a suitable option.

As a single mother, homeschooling was not an option, either. I had heard many negative stories about charter schools. But I was blessed with the opportunity to send my children to Winthrop Charter. It was a great fit for my kids, and one of the best decisions I have made.

Fast-forward a few years later, they now attend the school where I teach. I have watched their love for learning flourish. They are in an environment where they are more comfortable expressing themselves, while also being challenged academically.

Thousands of families all over this state are in similar positions. We do not all have the opportunity to buy our way into high-class neighborhoods with high-performing neighborhood schools. But we still believe our children deserve a high-class education. Many people see the brand-new charter schools opening and assume we labor in luxury. But charter schools actually operate at a disadvantage.

Many district-run public schools have been in operation for years and have accrued many curricular essentials over time. We are not allotted the same essential resources. Nor are funds readily available to purchase them.

It is a fact that charter schools have historically received less funding per student than district schools. Although recent legislation has helped make funding more equal, charter schools like my current school still must hold fundraisers to provide vital student services like developmental reading assessment kits, accommodation testing materials and math manipulatives.

While the Hillsborough County school district has one of Florida’s most responsive charter school support teams, we still do not receive the same support from the central office as our counterparts in the district.

I have educated young minds for 12 years. Most of my career has been in district-run schools: Six years in Miami-Dade County and two years with the Hillsborough County district before I began teaching in charters, first with Charter Schools USA and now BridgePrep.

Every year, my goal has been to give my students the best I can to prepare them for their future. I believe that is what every educator wants for their students. We are all in this together. We all want our students of varying needs and abilities to receive necessary support services. We all rely on support and appreciation from parents, the community, administrators and our professional counterparts. We all desire salaries that allow us to support our families and still allow us to make purchases to benefit our classroom. We all desire to feel safe at our school sites. Why is there disagreement when we all want the same things?

I believe district and charter school educators should join forces to raise a stronger voice for quality public education. The students we all educate will become our doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs.

We educate the world. Let’s work together to change it.

___

 Marsha Edwards is an educator who lives in the Tampa Bay-area.

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