By Kelly Marlow
Having grown up in metro Atlanta, a visit to the Gold Dome for PTA Day at the Capitol still held as much thrill for me as a Mother as it did when I was in school. As I walked the stone staircases in the winter of 2011, I was overwhelmed with youthful memories of school field trips and civic lessons.
As the parent of second grade twins and also as my Cherokee County school’s PTA Board Member-Elect, I walked arm in arm with my fellow school leaders who shared a palpable sense of pride in our role as the drivers of meaningful parental involvement in our public schools. I was convinced that in a small way, we were helping to shape policy and making a difference for the children across Georgia.
Little did I know that a few short months later, I would be standing on the opposite side of the Capitol and of my friends in the PTA, to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down the authority of the state to approve charter school applications. Standing on those same stone steps on May 17th, 2011, I was overwhelmed again, but this time in a much different way. How could our leaders get this so wrong and how did this become so much about the money and politics and so little about Georgia’s children?
That was the day I first heard from others like myself – mothers – but also mothers who were state representatives — who stood in the shadow of the Gold Dome passionately speaking to students and parents about their heartbreak, frustration and anger over the state Supreme Court ruling. The questions asked by these dynamic leaders on that day spoke to the very core of my parenthood.
I had no choice but to ask myself, how long was I willing to sit idly by and allow the uncertainty of my child’s education future? How long was I willing to wait for a broken system to fix itself? The women who I heard on that fateful day outside the Gold Dome described the fight for school choice as a “test of wills.” What was my own will? Was I willing to stand against my PTA friends and against the entrenched education establishment to fight for school choice and increased parental control? You can bet your multi-billion-dollar state education budget I was!
Since that day, I have embarked on a journey that has seen my role dramatically change from being a dedicated parent volunteer to school-choice activist to Cherokee County Board of Education, Member-Elect. As I prepare to take elected office in January, I look forward to relying on lessons I learned from national pioneers in education reform.
Ember Reichgott Junge is a former Minnesota state legislator who is widely credited with writing the nation’s first state charter school law. A few weeks ago she was in Atlanta to address a statewide conference attended by charter school educators and many parents. She told me the charter school movement has succeeded for over 20 years “because it was a bipartisan initiative that came from the middle of the political spectrum that arose from visionary citizens outside the political spectrum.”
Like many parents who need public school options for their children, I hold on to hope that the citizens of Georgia will meet in the middle of the political spectrum and embrace real education reform. I hope the basic idea of increased options within public schools will encourage innovation, competition and experimentation and will provide a path to improve education for all children in all public schools.
Many before me stepped forward to ask the right questions. I am honored to stand alongside them.
(Kelly Marlow is recipient of the Georgia Charter Schools Association 2012 Power to the Parents Award. This article was written for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)