Imagine being told that your daughter won’t graduate from high school. Now imagine that your daughter is only 5 years old when you receive the news. This happened to someone I know.

school girls

Katherine is the mother of now 17-year-old Grace. Twelve years ago, at about the time that Grace was to enter kindergarten, Katherine and her husband noticed signs that Grace might be facing learning challenges. They took Grace to be assessed by local public school personnel and determined their concerns were well founded. Grace did indeed have a learning disability.

The staff at the school was great. They were sensitive, methodical and thorough. They assured Katherine that the school had a program that was well suited to meet Grace’s needs. They mapped out the program all the way through the 12th grade.

But as the meeting was winding down, everything changed. For the worse.

“You need to understand,” said the teacher as she wrapped up the assessment, “when Grace finishes the 12th grade she won’t have a diploma, she will have a certificate of completion.”

Katherine was dumbfounded.

“You mean she won’t graduate?” she asked.

“That’s right,” the teacher said. “She’ll have a certificate that indicates that she completed high school, but not that she graduated.”

It surprised and dismayed Katherine and her husband that the school was determining the long-term future of their five-year-old daughter. It was particularly troubling to them because they knew what studies say about the prospects for kids who do not graduate from high school – that they’re less likely to find steady employment or form a healthy marriage and family life.

Where is Grace today?

Although she didn’t start reading until she was ten years old, she is now on schedule to graduate in May of 2017 – with a diploma.

How did she make such progress? Well, when Katherine and her husband heard the school’s prognosis, they set out to find other ways to educate Grace. They determined they needed maximum flexibility. Fortunately, Katherine’s husband made enough money to give her the flexibility to stay at home and enroll Grace in the various academic and therapeutic programs that have driven her success.

It’s been a challenging and uneven journey at times, but Grace’s parents have found a way to make it work. But they’ve often wondered, “What about those people who are told the very same thing we were but don’t have the resources or ability to make adjustments and exercise choices?”

How many of these students will be finishing high school this coming May with a “certificate of completion”? And how would their lives be different if they had more options available?

diploma empty chairs

There are thousands of other parents who are struggling due to a lack of choices for their child’s education. You may be one. You may know one.

This is why at the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) we’re focused on passing broad school choice reform. We know that if a child can get an education that fits his needs, it can drastically change the trajectory of his life.

I’ve been with the GCO for 18 years, and we’ve consistently advocated for policies that ensure children can receive the best education possible. During this time, GCO’s work and the generous donors who support it have contributed to the passage of Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship and Tuition Tax Credit programs.

These programs have helped some 17,000 students get the education that best fits their needs. But there are more than 1.6 million students in Georgia’s public school system. This means there are still many children who are locked in to a school that’s not meeting their needs, simply because they can’t afford a private education or to move to a district with better public schools.

This is why more must be done.

In the current legislative session, GCO is advocating for an Educations Saving Account plan which would provide the most flexibility and maximize a family’s ability to pay for a private education and other educational needs, like tutoring, while having the ability to save for college. There’s also an opportunity to expand the Tuition Tax Credit program, by either creating a new corporate program or expanding the existing one.

If we’re going to pass broad school choice reform, now is the time.

That’s why our team at GCO is working harder than ever to mobilize grassroots advocates, engage business leaders, and meet with legislators and the governor to bring them together on the issue. But we need your continued support to make the dream of school choice for every child in the state a reality.

I hope you’ll consider joining us in this important work by making a tax-deductible gift today. If you would like to learn more about the work GCO is doing in education, I also encourage you to read through our school choice initiative page.