D.R.A.’s genesis began in my home with three students – a modern version of the one-room school house. In less than three years, D.R.A. continues to blossom into a sanctuary nurturing 78 students from Pre-K-8 within its branches. Within D.R.A.’s boughs, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, a school choice program for low-income students, provides funding to 36 students.
At Deeper Root, our classes are made smaller in an effort to give students more individualized attention. We are not bound by state-mandated restrictions nor do we follow cookie-cutter models. As a result, we don’t funnel kids down the same path. Instead, we recognize that as all student are different, they also learn differently. We focus on building relationships … deepening roots. Attention to the student and encouragement are sown and trust is abundantly reaped. Once a child trusts, they learn. Once they taste success, they become both empowered and unstoppable.
A faith-based atmosphere at Deeper Root is also a part of the Deeper Root difference. I chose to start a private school rather than a public charter school because I wanted my students to learn Biblical principles that I either found watered down or altogether missing from the public sector. These principles are vital as it’s important that our children become good citizens … to know what it means to be trustworthy, respectful, and responsible. It’s important that our students are not just taught but they are shown. Our students know our slogan: “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much, unless you do what’s right.”
Many of the students at D.R.A. arrived at least one grade level behind in the public
schools. Now, they are budding with confidence and achievement; these students are succeeding.
Despite the rich environment into which these students have been planted, these tender shoots have recently come under risk ... the risk of a harsh sun and an unrelenting wind. This change in environment comes in the form of a lawsuit.
The ability of the parent to enroll their child in a school of their choice, one that benefits the child, could be taken away because of this lawsuit. A lawsuit that is still unknown by many.
Two years ago, the Florida teachers union, the NAACP and others filed the suit against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. The first two courts that heard the case dismissed it, stating the plaintiffs could not prove their claims of harm to public schools. But the union continues to appeal, most recently to the Florida Supreme Court. The scholarship parents who are defending the program filed their response last week.
The stakes could not be higher. The scholarship program is serving 95,000 students statewide with 9,000 residing in Orange County. Greater than 70 percent of these students are minorities with an average family income of $24,000 annually. Test scores revealed that the typical scholarship student was struggling in his or her prior school but is now making steady progress. In other words, the scholarship has been an opportunity for disadvantaged children, a light at the end of tunnel, and a welcomed sunrise to a long and dark night. These students are making the most of this gift.
So many of our students were discouraged with their previous learning environment. So were their parents. The system wasn’t working for them. They were failing, acting out, and distancing themselves from that which appeared unattainable. If the pattern were to continue, many of these students would be destined to become another statistic of the public school sys-tem … dropouts.
My wish is for the teachers union and NAACP to do what is right for the children, for our future. The lawsuit is unfair and misguided, possessing the potential to devastate many lives. It could also be a precedent to ending other programs that focus on providing services to our most vulnerable students.
Thirteen students at Deeper Root Academy use state scholarship funds purposed for students with disabilities. There is nothing to stop the opponents of tax credit scholarships from targeting these programs next. They could also go after VPK, which similarly allows parents to send their children to private schools. Although we don’t have VPK students, I know many schools that do, and many parents who depend on those scholarships.
The opposition’s main argument is that the tax credit scholarship is draining money from public schools. This claim is unsubstantiated as multiple studies show the contrary. So what is this really about?
I believe it’s about politics and about misplaced values. It should be about the children. Maybe the best learning environment for a particular child is a public school. Maybe it is a private school. What does it matter? What matters is whether the child is learning and succeeding.
Please, let’s get back to what matters.
Dr. Angela Kennedy is founder and CEO of Deeper Root Academy.
See Dr. Kennedy's Original Guest Column in the link below.