Making Choices, Making Sacrifices


Erica Howard lives less than a mile from her local district school in the school zone she intentionally moved into. In the city that she is paying higher taxes to live in. For a house she dipped into her retirement savings to afford.

This was the right thing to do.

After all, in a part of the state where the struggles of numerous district schools have been well documented, Bankston Elementary School in North Greenwood would be different. She purchased a house in the city right off Grand Boulevard. Because of this sacrifice, her children would have the educational start to life that they needed.

Little did Erica know, the sacrifice she would be making for her children’s education was just starting.

Choosing North Greenwood

“We moved here to be near Bankston,” Erica said. “That was what I wanted. And everything started out well. I was involved with the PTO and Nicholas seemed to be thriving.”

If only life was that easy.

But by third grade Erica noticed there were problems. His grades started to suffer and he was no longer progressing. Over the next two years, they tried many things. Erica was told that it might be ADHD. They had Nicholas tested. That was not the problem.

All Erica knew was her son could do better.

She asked to have Nicholas held back to no avail.

“I knew that if he doesn’t get this now, he’s not going to get it. We can’t go back and try to learn it when he is older,” Erica explained.

Nicholas stayed at Bankston through fifth grade, but then they made a change. Erica enrolled Nicholas at St. Francis of Assisi School, a Catholic school in Greenwood.

Choosing St. Francis

St. Francis opened in 1951, three years before the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision paved the way for desegregation in public schools across the country. From the beginning, the school sought to provide a high quality education option to African American students who could not receive one otherwise.

Seven decades later, the school is still doing that while also serving a growing Hispanic population.

“My husband went to St. Francis,” Erica said. “We knew a lot of people who had either gone there or sent their kids there. And after I learned the history of the school, I was glad we chose to send Nicholas there.”

Erica has quickly fallen in love with the school because of what it has done for her son.

“St. Francis has been wonderful,” Erica said. “They have smaller class sizes so the teachers can provide individualized education to each child. They can bring textbooks home. The teachers are constantly encouraging him. Everything from his grades to his attitude is changing for the better. He’ll come home and want to show me what he did at school today. School used to be such a struggle for us, but Nicholas loves it.”

Tuition at St. Francis is about $3,000 per student. That is less than a third of the nearly $10,000 per student that the Greenwood Public School District spends while not being able to provide basics like textbooks to take home.

Making the sacrifice for her children

Erica is a nurse and her husband is a truck driver. During slow seasons, he doesn’t make much money. If his truck breaks down, they don’t collect a check that week.

The tuition at St. Francis gave Erica pause.

“I have two younger kids in daycare that we have to pay for and we have this school down the street that is supposed to be the best school in the district and is free,” Erica added. “This has been a sacrifice for our family and is why I waited so long to send Nicholas.”

In fact, the money that Erica is spending for private school is money she was saving for college. She did not plan on spending it until her children were college age, but she knows for them to even get to college she needs to spend it now.

“I live in the city and pay these taxes for a school that my children don’t attend,” Erica said. “Private school is a financial burden; to think that I will have to send three kids to a school that isn’t a public school worries me.”

“I’ll have to figure it out.”

Erica would love to see a school choice program like the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) expanded for families who are making the necessary sacrifices to provide their children with the best education.

“I would love to see something like that, not only for me but for others,” Erica added. “There are many others who aren’t in the position I’m in where I can send my child to St. Francis. I know many people who have taken drastic measures to send their kids to private schools. But still, there are many others who would like to but can’t.”

An ESA expansion would change that.  It would make new options available to more parents who do not feel their assigned district school is meeting the needs of their children.

But even without the help, this was the best decision Erica has made.

“I’m glad I did it. I’m willing to sacrifice. These are my children and I want them to do well and be successful.”