Authorizer Voices: Access is More than Choice

Chloe grew up on Chicago’s South Side. When she was in 5th grade, her mom started looking for a great middle/high school—one that would stretch Chloe academically, support her in the challenging teen years, and give her lots of chances to explore her talents.

For starters, Chloe’s mom needed quality public school options to choose from. Then, she needed clear, helpful information about these schools plus the opportunity to apply and enroll her child in one of them. Finally, she needed that school to serve Chloe’s unique educational needs—for the long haul, as she grew as a student and a human being.

I know Chloe. I know that her mom did indeed find quality options, and had the opportunity to apply and enroll Chloe in a great school—a charter school in Chicago, just miles from NACSA’s headquarters. I know that Chloe’s unique learning needs were indeed met by this school. I know that Chloe blossomed there, and has gone on to graduate from the University of Chicago and start her bright career, despite the odds not in her favor.

Two pillars are usually held up as the foundation of the charter school formula for success: autonomy and accountability. Schools need autonomy. Taxpayers deserve accountability. But families want, need, and deserve access. Chloe and her mom had access.

Access is a three-part art:

  • Giving more families access to quality public school options
  • Providing access to information so families can choose a school and gain equal access to enroll their children
  • And once enrolled, ensuring families have access to the services each child needs to succeed

We believe the charter promise rests not on two, but on three pillars, including this one that’s often overlooked: access. Access to a good education is why families value charter schools, so it deserves more of our attention. That’s why we’ve been talking with charter school authorizers to understand how expanding and ensuring access is critical to their mission.

What are authorizers doing to uphold the principle of access? Quite a lot, it turns out. Authorizers are also wrestling with questions that arise while working on access, from the need for strong charter school operator applicants to the impact of transportation on children and budgets.

In this brief video from our rolling series Authorizer Voices, authorizers share what access means to them.

NACSA is grateful to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools for generously sharing footage from its schools. We also thank our members for graciously sharing their insights and expertise on film.