School Choice Helps LGBT Students in Alabama
The answer for students who feel unwelcome or underserved where they are is to expand the schooling market.
Homewood, Alabama, a suburb of 25,000 people south of Birmingham, is home to an excellent example of how charter schools can reach students who struggle in standard public school environments.
There you'll find the Magic City Acceptance Academy, a public charter school that opened its doors last August after struggling for a year to get official permission. The academy says its mission is to facilitate "a community in which all learners are empowered to embrace education, achieve individual success, and take ownership of their future in a safe, LGBTQ-affirming learning environment."
In addition to providing a standard curriculum for grades six through 12, Magic City offers wellness programs, psychological counseling, and help connecting families with health services. In its first year of classes, the school taught 232 students, drawn from all over the greater Birmingham area. All of those students' families were drawn to a school focused on LGBT inclusion. Magic City founder and principal Michael Wilson says he hopes to enroll 325 to 350 students for the 2022–23 school year.
Many critics of charter schools claim they discriminate against underprivileged and minority students by catering to wealthy, privileged, or conservative families. Yet many charter schools cater to minority students and those with special needs. The list of charter schools focused on assisting LGBT students is small so far: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools counts six of them. But charter schools are a promising way of extricating students from unwelcoming or oppressive public school environments.
Students need not be LGBT to attend Magic City. The goal is to create a friendly and welcoming environment for any child who is being bullied in traditional schools and is not getting the help or support he or she needs.
"There are some pretty horrific things that go on in schools," Wilson says. "It may be about the student's place on the LGBTQ spectrum but may be also because of autism or their skin color or because they're a child of immigrants. They're not comfortable where they are."
School choice allows schools like Magic City to provide an environment that welcomes and supports LGBT children. It also creates room for other charter schools that appeal to more conservative families. The answer for students who feel unwelcome or underserved where they are is to expand the schooling market.