A small but determined group of Prince George’s County residents want more opportunities for children to attend non-traditional schools based on the lack of improvement in traditional settings.
Delvin Champagne, president of the newly formed “PG County Parents for School Choice” group, organized a discussion Saturday, Jan. 27 to stress that parental choice is the best alternative.
The town hall-style forum coincided with national School Choice Week that ended Saturday. Inside the room at the Largo-Kettering library, yellow and white signs taped on the walls read “Let Me Learn!” “School Choice Now!” and “Parents Know Best!”
In the back of the room, three tables provided attendees with information for Holy Redeemer School in College Park; New Hope Academy in Hyattsville; and Woodstream Christian Academy in Mitchellville.
Former D.C. Councilman Kevin Chavous, who lobbied for a voucher program in 2004, gave keynote remarks before the dozen or so people in attendance. Chavous now works as president of academics, policy and schools at K12 Inc, an online company that provides resources for students in public, private and charter schools and those home-schooled.
“We should not put people into a position feeling like they’re forced to pick sides,” he said. “The value of school choice is it provides an opportunity for parent empowerment. When you have a robust menu of options for parents by what is best to choose for their children, I believe … that’s when the magic happens.”
Proponents have their biggest school choice advocate: Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
During a speech last month at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute in northwest D.C., she not only criticized federal educational mandates, but also said that Common Core “is dead.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has similarly pushed to incorporate a BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) program in the state.
Although the state legislature remains under Democratic control, the program approved two years ago permits state money for students eligible for free or reduced lunch to attend eligible private or charter schools.
The Republican governor requested $8.5 million for the program in the fiscal 2019 budget, a $3.3 million increase from this year.
Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller said in a statement Hogan’s “private school vouchers plan … overwhelmingly benefits students already in private schools.”
Meanwhile, preliminary recommendations from the Kirwan Commission report suggests it may cost the state an additional $2 billion to expand early childhood education for all 4-year-olds, increase teacher salaries over the next four to five years, but raise certain benchmarks such as professional development and other initiatives.
School choice advocates say the current status quo isn’t working.
“It’s about giving the parents the right to do what they feel is best for their kids,” said Everett Browning Sr., a Democrat running for state Senate in District 24. “We love our community. We love our schools, but our first obligation is to our own kids.”
A New Idea
Champagne, whose son attends Dora Kennedy French Immersion school in Greenbelt, presented a “hypothetical scenario” at Saturday’s talk to decrease class size and save the county school system money: Allow parents with at least 10 children from six classes in grades kindergarten through second grade choose to send their children to a private, charter, or magnet school.
The county school system saves nearly $8,000 per pupil, totaling $480,000, with the money reinvested into the elementary school for new computers and the hiring of teacher assistants, according to Champagne’s plan.
The proposed cost per pupil in kindergarten through 12th grade in next year’s county school budget stands at $15,785.
Champagne used his zoned school, Cooper Lane Elementary in Landover Hills, to provide the example.
“My approach is class size reduction,” he said. “In a class of 30 [students], you can reduce it down to 20. You can save a school money by outsourcing a portion of kids to reduce the class size. That’s just simple economics.”
Therese Dudley Mitchell, president of the county’s teacher’s union, said school choice supporters are “a bit misguided about school funding.”
“We have different needs in the public school system,” said Dudley Mitchell, who attended Saturday’s forum. “We have different levels of accountability. [Private schools] don’t have the special education requirements. The private schools can put kids out and choose who they want. We have to raise the bar in our public school system for all of our children.”