“Choice in education is no mere abstraction. Like its economic cousin, free enterprise, and its political cousin, democracy, it affords hope and opportunity.” –President Ronald Reagan
This week is National School Choice Week–a week designated “to [raising] public awareness of all types of education options for children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.” The Alabama Policy Institute has been a champion of school choice in Alabama for over twenty years. With the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 and the authorization of charter schools in 2015, Alabama’s children have benefitted from school choice efforts led by API.
API President and CEO Caleb Crosby is a public-school graduate and a firm believer that school choice strengthens education across the board, including public schools. Regarding school choice, Crosby states, “I’m proud to lead API, an organization that has been at the forefront of the fight for school choice and implementing policies that strengthen public schools in Alabama since the 1990s. With the approval of the state’s first charter school in 2016, I am hopeful and excited about the future of school choice in Alabama.”
This week, we highlight existing school choice efforts in Alabama by hearing from schools that have benefitted from school choice. Today, Ben Sciacca, Executive Director for Restoration Academy in Birmingham, discusses how school choice has improved student education outcomes in our community.
By Ben Sciacca, Executive Director for Restoration Academy
For almost thirty years, Restoration Academy (RA) has been an advocate of school choice. Anthony Gordon, our founder, started RA in 1988 after officiating the funerals of five young men killed due to gang and drug violence. He was distressed by a myriad of realities facing the youth in his community, but one of the chief things that concerned him was that most of the youth in his neighborhood did not have access to a consistent, quality education.
Twenty-eight years later, RA exists to provide families with school choice. We believe that every child and every family should at least have an option on where their children go to school.
One of our most recent additions to RA, Jonathan, has been elated to now be in a school where he is safe and free from the tyranny of bullies and gangs. Prior to being at RA, his parents had to contact the police five different times due to him being assaulted at school. He and his parents also cite how the teachers at RA consistently care for him and provide an environment where he can learn and thrive. Since arriving at RA his grades have soared along with his confidence. This is our hope and goal—that each child will have that experience.
We interview dozens of new families each spring. Many of these families seek enrollment at Restoration Academy for the same reasons. For one, many of them are deeply concerned about the safety of their children at their local schools. They testify about how regular fights and altercations are jeopardizing their children’s sense of peace and well being. Others cite apprehension about the quality of instruction that their children are receiving at their local schools. These parents make it clear that they would like to provide their children with an entirely different environment where issues of safety and the quality of instruction are not things they have to worry about.
The reality is that “choice,” as it relates to education, has largely been relegated solely to communities of higher socioeconomic standing. Most families in lower-income neighborhoods have no choice as it relates to where their children attend school. America affirms that equality is something that should be afforded to all people. It stands to reason that if some individuals are not afforded an equal choice as to where their children attend school, that is an injustice to be remedied. Not only do the children who take advantage of school choice benefit from it, but school choice is shown to strengthen public schools and the surrounding communities.
Restoration Academy has a passion to provide families who are seeking an alternative to their current school with that alternative. If other families around the state have a choice as to where their kids attend school, we believe that the families in our neighborhood should also.
Ben Sciacca serves as Executive Director for Restoration Academy. He holds a masters degree from Covenant College and has been at Restoration Academy for 15 years.