Though 1.7 million students in Florida now choose their schools, their parents’ voices are sometimes ignored by policymakers. We at the Florida Parent Network are changing that, and a new partnership promises to strengthen our army.
The new pact, which combines the organizing and communications efforts of the Florida Parent Network, the Florida Charter School Alliance and Charter Schools USA, breaks new ground in the parental empowerment movement.
In other states, the movement is often splintered between those who advocate for private school scholarships and those who support charter schools – and, for that matter, those who take advantage of other educational options. This agreement signals that Florida is taking a different path.
To date, the Parent Network has drawn primarily from those who choose three different private school scholarships that last year served 139,00 students with economic disadvantage and special needs. FPN has now joined forces with charter schools, which 280,000 students chose last year.What we have found is that traditional associations such as the PTA give voice to parents whose children are thriving in district neighborhood schools. Those same groups can’t easily connect with parents who make other choices. The PTA no doubt sincerely believes in its historic mission “to advocate for all children,” but its members explicitly reject most of the modern-day options that parents across this state are now freely choosing. Last year, according to state Department of Education data, 46 percent of students in PreK-12 chose something other than their district-assigned neighborhood school.
Their voices must be heard as well.
What makes this effort so rewarding is that it reaffirms that a parent’s love is powerful. That love is also the foundation of our movement. FPN parents pop up in all manner of places – legislative committees, school board meetings, in letters to the editor and marching in rallies – to fight for schools that help their children succeed. Sometimes they choose to be highly visible, filling hearing chambers clad in bold orange “PARENT POWER” T-shirts. Sometimes their work is more personal – commenting on social media or calling a lawmaker’s office.
In Florida, we are not fractured. Here, educational choice means that parents are free to choose whatever option works for their families, whether that’s tax-credit scholarships, vouchers, homeschooling, district-run schools, magnets, virtual programs and/or charter schools.
This makes us a united movement, and much stronger as a result.
Parents in FPN support each other and believe children should be educated based on how they learn, not where they live. They recognize that a threat to one is likely a threat to all. They will not be divided.
We are building this coalition because the combination of parents from both private school scholarships and charter education speaking with one united voice is powerful.
The bigger the army, the louder that voice and the better chance these parents’ views will be heard.