When Bristi Basu was accepted into the University of Denver on a full scholarship, it was a dream come true. Ecstatic, Bristi called her mother, a native of India, to share with her the good news. "I could hear her crying softly before she told me how proud she was," Bristi recalls in a recent interview.
These emotional scenes are taking place because more Colorado families are exercising greater choice in deciding where to send their children to an elementary, middle or high school of their choice. In Bristi's case, she is a graduate of the Denver School of Science and Technology, a public charter school that is part of a growing network of schools outside Denver that are providing many first-generation and lower-income Americans with a quality education and an opportunity to attend college.
Charter schools, which have been around for nearly a quarter of a century, are public schools operating with greater flexibility in exchange for increased accountability and academic standards. Started out of a need that some students were not excelling academically in a traditional public school setting, charter schools are now the fastest growing type of public school in the country. What's more, they are delivering results.
For example, Denver School of Science and Technology's graduation rate is well over 80 percent and in other parts of the country studies have found that charter school students are outperforming their traditional public school peers in math and reading assessment. This explains why Colorado families are flocking to enroll their children in this type of school. In fact, per the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are more than 238 charter schools serving more than 114,000 students in Colorado.
Of course, charter schools are not for everyone. For some families, their local traditional public school may be the best fit. In this case, the family is exercising the choice to send their child(ren) to their local public school.
The point is that all families should have the opportunity to send their children to whatever form of educational institution works best. Any parent or teacher will tell you that no two children are alike. This extends to the way they learn and flourish. Greater opportunities means that families and educators are better able to customize a child's education.
Not all see it this way. Among the fiercest critics include powerful special-interest groups that are staunch defenders of the status quo, even if it means that minority and low-income families will be deprived of accessing a high-quality education, including a charter school like the one Basu was able to attend.
These groups resort to scare tactics while pushing misleading information about public charter schools and educational freedom.
Instead Coloradans should rise above such pettiness and look to neighboring states like Arizona and Nevada that are experimenting with what are known as Education Saving Accounts that empower families to use their child's share of education funding that a state would have spent on their child in a public school for qualified educational expenses like tutoring, online course work or tuition fees.
Although Education Saving Accounts have only been around for a short time, families are expressing support for this innovation in our educational system - a nationwide poll in January showed nearly 70 percent supported them.
Support is strong in Colorado and growing stronger. Stories like Bristi's show that educational freedom is working for our students.
Jesse Mallory is the state director for Americans for Prosperity - Colorado, the largest free market grass-roots organization in the state with over 127,000 activists statewide.