Reformer ToolboxLogin

CancelLost your password?

#EIE15 session shows the true impact of education reform

• Mike Thomas

Favor panel cropped

Attendees at the National Summit on Education Reform saw a slice of school choice in actions this morning as a panel of students, parents and educators shared their stories with Campbell Brown, the co-founder and editor of “The Seventy Four.’’

Katie Swingle, a mother from Florida, has an autistic son named Gregory. She sent him to a public school but it wasn’t meeting his needs. Katie feared her son would be dependent on others the rest of his life.

But she found a small private school that specialized in teaching autistic children. The price was prohibitive until the state passed a Personal Learning Savings Account program for students with disabilities. This allowed her access to the state funds that would have been spent on his education in a public school and spend them at the private school instead.

Her son has made significant progress ever since. To demonstrate that, she showed a sample of his writing before and after attending the new school.

Katie said she plans to eventually put her son back in public school, but he is not ready yet.

“The PLSA saved him from falling apart emotionally,’’ she said. “For us, right now, he is in the right environment.’’

Nicholas Ford, a student from Indiana, was having trouble in his public school because of disruptions and a lack of student respect in classrooms. Through a Choice Scholarship, he was able to transfer to a private school, where the curriculum was harder and he was behind. But he worked to catch up and gained confidence from the experience.

“I feel like I’m going to make it,’’ he said. “I can do whatever I want to do and be whatever I want to be.’’

Taniya Stanton, a student from North Carolina, had moved from one public school to the next before finding a good fit in a private school. This was made possible by a North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship.

“They don’t judge me,’’ she said. “They support me. I’m going to go to college. I’m going to receive a scholarship. I’m going to achieve my dream.’’

Leslie Poole, the CEO of the SEED Foundation, talked about how the foundation’s boarding schools served as families for disadvantaged kids.

One student lost her parents and without SEED her only guardian would have been her teenage sister.

“We sat with her, and we cried with her,’’ Leslie said.

She talked about parents becoming so motivated by their children’s progress they return to school to receive a GED diploma. SEED sets a goal of college graduation for each of its students.

Members of the panel encouraged legislators to advocate for school choice in their states.

“I love public schools,’’ said Katie Swingle. “Please don’t think of me as a threat. In five years we want him back in a public school.’’

Often close to tears, Katie addressed Florida legislators in the audience:  “You have changed our lives. Thank God, you have changed our lives.’’

About the author

Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet

Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at