By: Wendy Howard
Florida is a leader in education reform; other states look to see what we are doing when it comes to school choice and improved options.
But there are still plenty of barriers put in place to prevent parents from accessing all of these options.
If stakeholders and experts have a difficult time navigating through all of Florida’s available choices, and understanding the rules, eligibility requirements, and enrollment periods, how can parents navigate through them and grasp the full scope of what’s available?
Parents sometimes need assistance understanding the complicated variety of options available to them.
Every child in Florida deserves a customized learning plan so they might reach their God-given potential, at their own pace. FACE (Florida Alliance for Choices in Education) has brought together many wonderful organizations in order to expand options, empower parents, and elevate the rights of students so they might benefit from a customized and effective education.
How FACE began:
Back in the 2007-08 school year, my seven year-old daughter Jessica attended a private school. She excelled and we were thrilled, but unfortunately, economic factors hit us hard. Like so many other families, we had to make tough decisions and pull Jessica from her beloved private school.
During the 2008-09 school year, we heard about a virtual program and were immediately interested. However, children who had not done their “seat time” in a public school had no access to the district virtual program.
Jessica began a petition to remove that barrier so all children could access the public district virtual program.
Jessica’s petition quickly caught the attention of media and lawmakers in Tallahassee. In March 2009, the National Coalition for Public School Options read our story and offered to help. The following month, our family met with legislators and Gov. Crist signed Jessica’s petition. During this campaign, we met many other families and children who were blocked as well.
During the 2010 session, Jessica and I again met with legislators and testified before committees. We came together with others, asking why barriers were in place preventing access to options that are often best for children.
For example, why were there over 500 applications for a charter school with only a few openings? Parents looking for different options are often not able to access them.
While in Tallahassee, Jessica and I witnessed Step Up For Student’s inspiring school choice rally. NCPSO suggested I reach out to SUFS for help. Afterwards, Patricia Levesque with Foundation for Florida’s Future gave me some contacts, including Steve Hicks, President of the McKay Coalition.
All of these different groups had something in common; we wanted parents to have access to the options that best fit their children’s needs. It was time for us to come together and make a difference for families. The first informal FACE meeting saw only a handful of people, but enough to get everyone excited about the possibilities.
We decided to work together.
Since that original meeting back in July 2010, FACE continues to grow as we reach out to other organizations.
We discuss ways to best implement laws that give parents better options. The criteria among groups for evaluating a legislative proposal are:
- Does it expand a parent’s capacity to match their children with learning options that best meet their needs?
- Does it expand educators’ capacity to create and maintain additional learning options for students?
- Does it ensure tax dollars are spent effectively and efficiently?
In our first year, we used the above criteria as a guide, and saw several pieces of legislation crafted into law. In the 2012 legislative session, we continued and saw more success.
As FACE moves toward the 2014 legislative session, we must share the great work we’ve done and include more parents in the process. Parents, educators, stakeholders, and community members must stand together to put the rights and needs of students before all other special interests.