Faces of Freedom - Donald's

Dear Congressional leaders,

I would like to start by saying “Thank you” for your service to fellow Arkansans on a daily basis. I would also like to say as leaders in our community, I believe you have a responsibility to listen to all sides of a story before determining the BEST INTEREST of our kids and I’m profoundly disturbed by the letter that was sent to each of you regarding the Succeed Scholarship Program (Succeed Vouchers) by organizations that represent themselves as education equity organizations.

I too have concerns regarding the funding of this program as my family is a first time recipient of this voucher for the academic year of 2020-2021, and it’s allowed our 11-year-old son the opportunity to get specialized education for dyslexia for the first time in his life. So, my family and I are profoundly appreciative of the opportunity this scholarship presents, to not only our family but the hundreds of families across our state that receive and depend on these monies to fund a better education for their children.

This letter will be longer that I would care to write, but I feel that context matters, and I would like for each of you to know a little more about our family and the parties impacted by these funds. My wife and I have been married for over 25 years and have two biological sons, three adopted sons and one adopted daughter, so we are a larger family of eight total. Our two older sons are attending college at Arkansas State University (ASU), our 11-year-old son attends Hannah School in Maumelle for dyslexia, our 7-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son attend Robinson Elementary School in Pulaski County, and our youngest child attends Allen School, a school that specializes in early intervention for children with special needs.

Our two older sons that are at ASU started in the public school system, moved to the charter system at a school named ESTEM in Little Rock and then both graduated from Catholic High School for Boys, so our family has been involved in several schools systems and have seen the good and bad of several different academic settings.

I graduated from UALR with a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology, and my wife graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a BA in Science in Nursing, so we also have some formal education that we draw on as well in making decisions for our family.

I’ll start by saying that I am NOT and educator, nor am I a teacher and neither my wife or I have any special qualifications other than 22 years of child raising, 8-10 years in dealing with fostering and adoption processes with the state and stable work experience over the last 30+ years to use as my basis for the comments that I’ll make and requests, that you consider in determining the future of the Succeed Scholarship program.

I’d start by saying that based on the statistics used from these organizations websites the public school system is tragically flawed and needs major revisions to effectively educate our children today.

By their own statistics 93% of our children are educated in the public school system, and they’re failing to provide the basic educational levels our children need in order to thrive in life and increased funding in a failing system is not the answer. I would also say there is strong national data to prove that our current status of public education is failing our kids, and – in order change things for our kids’ futures – we need new thoughts and programs similar to the Succeed Scholarship. Families need control over their children’s educational progress through more charter schools and educational choice vouchers that would allow tax-paying citizens the opportunity to pull students from failing public schools and use tax paid dollars to offset expenses for alternate education.

The bottom line is quality education and not misappropriating funds in the public school system for football fields and other training facilities that only impact a small percentage of the school population is a fundamental problem that needs to be fixed. Public school money and funding is NOT the issue; it is the determination of funds appropriations and accountability at the local school level that’s the issue. Covid 19 is not the primary issue in our public school systems right now; it’s the degradation of education over the last 20 years. I would strongly encourage increasing the funding in the Succeed Scholarship program, charter schools funding and private school vouchers. Just a personal example:
Our 11-year-old son attended a charter school while in foster care at our home and during our adoption process, but in order to provide a more structured and localized education we moved him to public school close to our home in third grade where he attended through his fifth grade year. He was developmentally delayed in his education due to environmental circumstances prior to coming into our home and was making improvements in the charter school system up through his second grade year. We transferred him to a public school in third grade, and from the third grade through the fifth he continued to struggle with reading.

We asked for specialized testing to be done in the public school, but the testing he received was not sufficient to diagnose his dyslexia, so we had private testing done and those tests proved that he was struggling with dyslexia. I don’t feel it was the school overall, it was the lack of experience by the teachers dealing with special needs of students that set our son back educationally for three years. Teachers are only as good as their training and some are better equipped to handle special challenges more than others, but for three years the teachers in the public school setting failed to notice or address his reading issues, so we looked for alternate educational facilities.

The Hannah School that specializes in dyslexia education was brought to our attention, and it’s only by receiving the Succeed Scholarship that we are blessed with the opportunity to improve and address his reading needs at a specialized school that deals with his specific needs. He has only been attending the Hannah School for a short period of time, but the fundamentals they are teaching him will affect his life forever.

I don’t have all the statistics on the on biennial Succeed Voucher reporting, but to address inequities mentioned in the letter, I believe increasing the funding on Succeed Scholarship program and educating the families across the state on the benefits of the program would help improve these numbers. It has been our experience that the public school system is not set up to educate children with special needs or educational delays.

More choices are the answer, not limiting the funding in these type programs, so I would strongly encourage each of you to continue to support these programs and other great ideas that are generated by the local communities.

As far as addressing inequalities due to race and minority representation in these programs, I think the proper response would be to increase the involvement of local community leaders in the areas that are underrepresented and work to improve alternate educational resources other than public educational facilities. We continue to throw money at a broken system that’s not educating our children to the level of most parents expectations and options are the answer, NOT restrictions.

– Donald, parent

Click here to learn more about the Succeed Scholarship!