Leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates debated Thursday night at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in San Diego, on the eve of the California Democratic Party’s three-day convention. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

In April, I’m going to reach a milestone — my 18th birthday. This is the year I get to vote in what many are saying will be a banner election, and I’m excited. It’s been ingrained in me that voting is one of the best ways to affect change.

I’m going to register as a Democrat because I align with their platform. I believe in equality for all; it doesn’t matter your race, nationality, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation, all deserve equal rights. I am a strong supporter of free and affordable higher education, Medicare-type health care for all and gun control.

Voice of San Diego Commentary

But where the Democratic Party and I are not aligned is on the value of charter schools in the public education system.

That is why, on Saturday, I will join fellow charter school students, parents and other supporters to rally outside the California Democratic Party Convention in San Diego. Our goal is to show the party delegates and leaders that charters should be a part of the platform.

Charter schools are public schools of choice that offer a valuable alternative to the traditional, one size-fits-all educational model. They allow families to choose the best path that will offer their children academic success. They are independently managed, and for that independence they offer greater accountability — they must be re-approved every two-to-five years by a local district, county or state education board to operate.

I have certainly benefited from the three charter schools I attended. My foray into charter schools started in the 3rd grade when I was plucked from my comfortable home and neighborhood school to go live with my grandparents in San Diego.

I was sad and scared. My mom, underwhelmed by the local school, decided to enroll me in a new charter school, Innovations Academy. That school, with its emphasis on social-emotional behavior and project-based learning, helped me adjust from the homesickness and stress of being uprooted from my comfort zone. Through exploration classes like Lego Robotics, French cooking, Toastmasters debate and my “passion projects,” I developed a love of learning that is with me today.

This emphasis on learning and project-based curriculum is what has fed my desire to continue to push myself academically at High Tech Middle and High Tech High Media Arts. Hovercraft projects, model rocket launches, an internship at UCSD’s Biomedical department, a mini-internship at Qualcomm Thinkabit Labs, and my senior project of creating a radio telescope to hear sounds from Jupiter are all phenomenal educational experiences that have shaped my pursuit of higher education. I am currently accepted at Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Long Beach and have been invited to apply to the honors program at both schools. I am still awaiting acceptance decisions from other colleges across the country.

As one of 600,000-plus students in California that is benefitting from a charter school education, I cannot understand the Democratic Party’s resistance to accept and embrace these public schools that are giving students like myself a better educational experience or are helping to bridge the academic gap for so many — especially those in lower socio-economic communities.

Aren’t choice and the desire to raise up those in socially and economically disadvantaged populations part of the Democrats’ core values? A charter school education is not a red or blue issue; it is a students’ educational rights issue. The Democratic Party, just as the Republican Party, should be upholding the mantle of students’ rights for all — not trying to limit them, nor limit who gets access.

It’s unfair that children and grandchildren of Democratic school board members and California legislators get access to charter schools while these same elected officials are creating roadblocks that limit more students from having that educational choice. This is elitism and hypocrisy at its worst and really should have no place in the Democratic Party. One would think that the Democratic Party would want to be supportive of the progressive educational pursuits of the next generation, which has proven their ability to effectively mobilize against those who would hold them back.

This is why my generation will be vocal advocates within the party for a change to the platform, including public charter school access for all and the dismantling of legislative roadblocks. It is time for the voice of more than 600,000 California charter public school students to be heard and embraced by the party so that all have educational opportunities to succeed.

Katie Anderson is a senior at High Tech High Media Arts, a public charter school in San Diego. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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