Denise Pierre is a mother of two and a member of Rhode Island Families for School Choice.
Like most parents, I care passionately about the education my children receive because I know that the skills they develop, the character they form, and the future they’ll have depend upon it.
I can relate to the concepts of struggle and sacrifice to provide a good education; I do both every day for my children. But how much should parents have to struggle to give their child an education that works, and what about those who cannot afford it, no matter how much they sacrifice? Wouldn’t our state want to assist families in giving kids access to education options that fit their needs?
My understanding of the importance of education — and school choice — dates back over 30 years. My parents made a choice, sending my brother and me to a private school, which they saw as the best educational opportunity for us. When I neared high school, tuition increased and my family didn’t qualify for any financial assistance, but they did not believe the nearest public high school, which had a bad reputation, would be best either. Concerned about our education, they made another choice. They moved us just shy of three miles into a different school district with a better public high school. Because of Rhode Island’s enrollment restrictions, we wouldn’t have been able to attend the school without the upheaval.
Fast-forward to 2014, when faced with choosing a school for our children, just like my parents, I wanted to choose a learning environment that met the needs of my children and encapsulated the values we wished for. We found a private school where my children thrived. Then, in 2019, our beloved private school shut down suddenly, just weeks before summer break.
We scrambled to find an alternative and wished we had more — and more affordable — choices. Private schools had no scholarship funding left for the coming year, we had missed the public charter school lottery and were in the “wrong” district, and the closest public schools to us were overcrowded. Thankfully, we finally found another private school that agreed to match our tuition, offered a sibling discount, and had space for both children.
Tuition has since increased, and like most middle-class families we don’t qualify for financial aid, but we want to keep the kids in the school that helps them thrive. But I and many other parents in similar situations are asking ourselves: Shouldn’t all parents have more affordable school options, and shouldn’t all children receive education funding, regardless of the choice their parents make?
Like most parents, we will gladly sacrifice to help our children succeed, but I can’t help but think about the benefits it would bring to families if all parents received support in accessing the education that best fits their child’s needs. All children deserve a quality education, regardless of who they are, their financial situation, or the choice their parents make.
Our family pays property taxes and state taxes, as do other Rhode Island families. I strongly believe that parents should receive a portion of the funding they pay through their taxes for education, empowering them to make a good choice for their child’s school, wherever that may be.
Families shouldn’t have to choose between buying a house in another district or accepting the educational status quo nearest them, which may fail to meet their child’s needs. I worry about the many parents who don’t know about school choice and are getting left behind, because Rhode Island doesn’t provide them with the financial support or community resources to find the best fit.
All children deserve access to a great education, and all parents deserve support in choosing a school that works for their family. This School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30), let’s listen to parents and work to bring the benefits of choice to every Rhode Island family.