Voice for Choice – Manuel Castañeda

My name is Manuel, and I’m a father and an Oregon business owner. When my daughters were younger, they attended our local public elementary school in Beaverton, Oregon. One day I went to have lunch with the two girls, but only one came out.

My younger daughter, Stephanie, had had her schedule switched to include an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. Knowing that Stephanie, a native speaker of English, had problems communicating with her grandparents in Spanish, I went to the school office to find out why Stephanie was taking ESL.

The school official with whom I spoke could not provide a good reason why Stephanie, who was born in Hillsboro, needed to be in an ESL class. I told her that Stephanie needed help with math and not with learning a language she spoke better than me. The official told me that I would need to go to downtown Beaverton and get permission from the “Migrant Intake Center” to move Stephanie.

The school official’s response was insulting to me. I was a migrant once when we moved to Washington County with my family in 1979. Stephanie has never been a migrant. The hospital where she was born can practically be spotted from the roof of the school. I left shaken and wondering if there was a statute of limitations for being considered a migrant. Would I ever be considered a resident? How about the second generation born here? Would they continue to be considered migrants?

The experience energized me to learn more about the ESL government program. I finally figured out why it was almost impossible to remove a kid from one of these programs. The schools get paid extra money for every kid enrolled in these special needs programs.

Stephanie was moved the following year to another public school. This school was only about two miles away from the previous school. She was enrolled there without being put in the ESL program. Two or three months later, she was back in the ESL program again.

When I met with the school principal, he agreed with me that he had no idea why Stephanie was part of the program. He also agreed with me that Stephanie didn’t need the ESL program and that she would be given more math and science classes.

The next day, he said he wanted to meet with me again. When I refused to meet without him telling me what the meeting would be about, he finally told me that they would like Stephanie to stay in the ESL program, but that she could do other work there, like math or science.

That was the moment when I finally knew that the financial benefits to the school took priority over the future of my daughter.

When I went to the car, I called my wife and told her that we had to work day and night and weekends if necessary in order to find a better way to educate our kids. The system didn’t have the best interests of our kids at heart, but we did. We needed to start looking for ways to provide the best possible future for our kids. My wife and I have done that ever since.

All Oregonians should have the right to provide the best education possible for their kids. It doesn’t matter who provides the education or in what location. Thousands of families face the same issues that I did with my kids. They need to have a choice. For those who are happy where they are, no one should force them to leave their schools. But no bureaucracy will ever have the best interests of children at heart the way we parents do, and that’s why I’m a voice for choice.

I’m Manuel and I’m a ‘Voice for Choice’

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Voice for Choice – Kathryn Hickok

My name is Kathryn, and I’m the director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon. CSF-Oregon empowers K-8 students from lower-income Oregon families to get a quality education and a “hand up” in life by providing partial tuition scholarships to the schools of their parents’ choice.

Through my work with CSF-Oregon, I’ve watched how school choice changes the trajectories of students’ lives, sparking their passion for learning and helping them fulfill their potential.

Every child has one chance to grow up, and each year is precious. Parents know it: The right school can change a child’s life. Empowering parents to give their children the education that’s right for their own talents and needs can unlock the unique potential of every child—today.

The mother of one of our CSF Scholars told me, “I wish that the education system could understand that not every child fits into the same-sized box, and everyone needs to do what is right for their family.”

She’s right.

Parents know a solid education prepares their children for life, and that path begins in grade school. But many families, like this mom’s, are trapped in schools that don’t meet their kids’ educational needs. While families with greater means can move to neighborhoods with public schools they like, or pay twice for education by opting for a private school, lower-income families often don’t have those options.

And those families’ children may be at the greatest risk of not graduating from high school. According to the National Association of Education Progress, only 33% of Oregon fourth-graders tested “proficient” in reading in 2017. Our state continues to have the third-lowest graduation rate in the country. And sadly, nearly half the children born into poverty will stay in poverty as adults. Changing those outcomes requires a solid early education leading to graduation and employment.

School choice gives all parents the power to find the right educational fit for their child, right when he or she needs it—not some other year, not when “things change,” not when another school reform plan “fixes the system.”

One of CSF-Oregon’s first scholarship recipients described her experience this way:

“My parents…wanted my brother and me to be placed in an environment where we would be academically challenged and be able to succeed…. What [the Children’s Scholarship Fund has] given me is so much more than money; you have given me opportunity, confidence, faith, and trust that life has meaning, and that I am meant to succeed no matter what obstacles come my way.”

All students should feel that way, and with school choice they can.

Children have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. Connecting students with the teachers and experiences that will help them succeed and ignite their passion for learning is what education is all about.

Whether children find that in a local public school or in a charter, magnet, private, online, or home school (or some combination of them), the important thing is that all children have the chance to reach their potential in an educational environment in which they can truly thrive.

School choice puts parents in the “driver’s seat” of their children’s education, and that’s why I’m a voice for choice.

I’m Kathryn and I’m a ‘Voice for Choice’

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Voice for Choice – Jenni

My name is Jenni, and I’m a mom and a teacher. My son Henry is incredibly bright, but he wasn’t particularly successful academically. He was struggling, and yet we knew how capable he was. He got to the point where he did not see himself as smart because he felt like he was failing. As a mom that breaks my heart, and as a teacher that breaks my heart, because I believe every kid can succeed.

So, we tried a variety of educational options for him: brick-and-mortar public school, private school, and homeschool. Regardless of schooling platform, obstacles persisted. While there was some effectiveness at each school, he still didn’t have the level of focus that he needed.

This led us to try an online schooling format for him, through a charter school, and we finally found an option that fit. This structure afforded him flexibility, opportunity, and accountability. By removing the constraints that are inherent in many school platforms, the online environment was more customizable to his needs. He has an advisory teacher who is fully invested in his success, who guides our son with a kind mix of caring and reality.

One of the best things we’ve found with the online school is that Henry is able to pursue interests and opportunities that might not have been available in other settings. Henry is now better equipped for the future that lies in front of him. We are incredibly thankful that Baker Charter School has been the vehicle for Henry’s education these past few years.

Henry didn’t have what he needed to succeed in the public school format. The online format made a huge difference for him. He feels great about himself. He’s got a lot of different things going that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. To me, that’s where the power of school choice comes in.

School Choice in Oregon gives kids real chances that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Just one, two, or three alternative options aren’t enough! I know firsthand that each format has something to offer, and it might be just exactly what your children or grandchildren need. Henry thrived in one particular environment, and I’m so grateful we found it. School Choice will give all Oregonians the option to find a platform that works for our children’s learning styles, so they can believe in their own potential and finally succeed in school.

I’m Jenni and I’m a ‘Voice for Choice’.

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