Stories from the field: Alabama’s school ‘choice’ law offers no real choice for many disadvantaged children
By Sarah Ford on April 23, 2014
When I accepted a position as a community outreach advocate with the Southern Poverty Law Center, I knew it meant the opportunity to be part of “big things.” Just weeks after I started, standing in a dirt parking lot in a rural Black Belt community, I had absolutely no doubt that I had been right. Advocating for the children our elected officials seem so willing to leave behind was this “big thing.”
Fellow advocate Cindy Escoto and I had spent the first of many days over the summer speaking with children enrolled in “failing schools” throughout the counties of the state’s Black Belt region. We sat in living rooms, on porches and in backyards, melting in the Alabama humidity, and listened. Kids described their experiences in their schools, and parents shared stories of the hardship and resilience that has marked their lives in these close-knit, impoverished communities.
For someone who graduated from the best public high school my state had to offer, their stories were a stark reminder of the alarming inequities in educational opportunities that act to reinforce social and economic inequality. I learned from a 7th-grader that in his school they read novels from overhead projector transparencies because the school does not have enough books. Parents told us that they struggle to afford school uniforms, to check their children’s homework assignments because they lack Internet access, or to help when their child is stuck on a problem because their own educational opportunities had been so limited.