by Kyla Anderson, New Mexico
Some say politics make strange bedfellows but none could be stranger than the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) throwing their lot in with the very same politicians pushing a bill to cap public charter schools.
It happened in my home state of New Mexico, when the supposedly pro-school choice NAPCS simultaneously battled lawmakers’ efforts to cap charter school enrollment and then turned around and partnered with the exact same lawmakers to gut virtual education options.
The bill NAPCS supported, SB 429, was a baldly discriminatory piece of legislation aimed at the thousands of New Mexico families who chose virtual schools for their children. It would have prohibited students in kindergarten through fourth grade from accessing virtual schools, no matter their need. It would have erased entire grades not deemed “adequate,” and restricted families in rural areas from accessing virtual schools. Plainly, SB 429 was designed to eliminate virtual education options through attrition. This was the kind of bill teachers unions would support, and one that all like-minded school choice advocates would ferociously oppose. But ironically it was endorsed and supported by the largest charter school organization in the country, NAPCS.
Amazingly, the bill to cap charter school enrollment (Senate Bill 1) which NAPCS opposed and the bill to gut virtual education (SB 429) were introduced by the same legislator: Democrat Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque. Thankfully, despite NAPCS’ three high-powered lobbyists working tirelessly on SB 429’s behalf, it was defeated by a bipartisan group of senators, backed up by hundreds of families who called, visited, and wrote letters opposing the bill. One can almost laugh at the two-faced game required of NAPCS as it opposed Sen. Stewart on one anti-school choice bill while simultaneously strategizing with her on how to pass another!
But it’s not a laughing matter. The legislation pushed by NAPCS would have had devastating effects on my family. I have three children and virtual schools have – literally – been a lifesaver.
My oldest son started having problems in 3rd grade and they continued until bullying made him suicidal by 7th grade. For his own safety we pulled him out of brick-and-mortar school and enrolled him in a virtual school. This change allowed him to focus on his education and work through his issues. He graduated and is currently an impressive young man in college studying computer design.
More recently, my husband and I became foster parents. Before joining our family, our daughter’s home life was a nightmare and her schooling spotty. Emotionally, there was damage done to her that needed time to heal. Rather than rush her into a classic high school experience – a time of high emotions for all – we kept her in virtual school for a year where she benefited from the direct one-on-one attention this option provides. She’s grown more confident and now is happily enrolled in a brick-and-mortal school. I fear to think how different her experience would have been if virtual education wasn’t an option when she first came into our family.
My children and my family are examples of the power of school choice broadly and virtual education more specifically. It’s this personal connection that prompted me and hundreds more families from New Mexico to stand up to NAPCS and other powerful lobby groups who inexplicably joined our common foes in their attempts to eliminate school choice options.
We prevailed this time. But NAPCS has been pushing legislation similar to this across the country.
Why would an organization purportedly dedicated to school choice go to such great lengths, and spend so much money, fighting to take away options that are important to parents like me?
Why would a charter school organization team up with politicians openly opposed to school choice?
Why are parents fighting pro-charter school organizations to preserve and protect their freedom to choose the schools they want and need for their kids?
It is sad and a red flag for those in the school choice movement.
Fortunately, parents stood up. If attacks on school choice occur again – whether by teachers unions or a national charter school organization – I will once again be joined by hundreds of families speaking with one voice in support of our children and educational choices.