Atlanta group aims to help black families navigate charter school choices

11:50 a.m. Monday, May 15, 2017 Atlanta Education News
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As enrollment in Atlanta charter schools grows, a new group is working to help parents navigate "school choice.”

Too many parents, especially African American parents, don’t understand that their children don’t have to attend the traditional Atlanta public school in their neighborhood, says David Mitchell, an Atlanta banker and brother of Atlanta city council president and mayoral candidate Ceasar Mitchell. 

That lack of knowledge is the impetus behind a new group Mitchell started as a "beacon of information" for African American families around charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of a school district.

"We want them to be a part of it and understand it," Mitchell said.

The group, Better Outcomes for Our Kids, or BOOK, is backed by $180,000 from one of the country’s biggest private foundations supporting school choice, the Walton Family Foundation.  

The group’s founding comes as Atlanta Public Schools expands the role of charter schools in the city. Last year, the school district hired two nonprofit groups affiliated with local charter schools to run five low-performing schools. This year, a third group was hired to run an additional school.

In recent years, more Atlanta students have enrolled in charter schools. The proportion of students in charter schools nearly doubled over the past five years, reaching about 16 percent last year, while the district’s overall enrollment saw little change. Districtwide, there's little difference in the racial composition of charter as a group and traditional public schools.

Next month, the school board is expected to consider applications from new charter schools that want to open in Atlanta. The district denied a request made under the Georgia Open Records Act for information about the potential new schools, saying state law allows them to keep “sealed proposals” private until the board takes action. 

BOOK has held public meetings to discuss education issues and recently sponsored a School Choice Pilgrimage tour of Washington, D.C. schools for Atlanta school board members and others. This fall, BOOK plans to hold a school choice summit.

Mitchell said BOOK grew out of his own experience searching for a school for his children. He and his wife “weren’t comfortable” with their neighborhood school, D.H. Stanton Elementary, and were considering private school until Leslie Grant, who is now an Atlanta Public Schools board member, introduced them to Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School.

“I had to find out the hard way...that there was more on the menu that I didn't know about,” Mitchell said.  

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