River Region member Beth Cox spoke from the steps of the Alabama state capitol (beginning around the 19:30 mark) as part of a day of action hosted by the Poor People's Campaign in Montgomery. Below she describes in gut-wrenching detail the struggles she's endured as a single working mother battling an educational system that does not prioritize her or her daughter's future. This is why we demand quality education for all!
I’ve been incredibly lucky. My daughter goes to one of the best elementary schools in the state, Forest Avenue Magnet. The way magnet works is they send your pre-K student through some testing and if they perform well enough on the test their name is put into a lottery pool and then you wait and pray.
I didn’t get the chance to read to my daughter every night, but I read to her a lot. We didn’t own a lot of puzzles, but we spent hours in Books-A-Million and the library playing with theirs. Through my own personal experiences I was able to appreciate and understand the importance of education and knowledge.
I listened to other mothers groan about how they weren’t looking forward to that private school price tag if this didn’t work. Or how others were kind of excited about the new Pike Road school and welcomed a move out east if their kid didn’t get in. But when I got the email confirming her slot my knees hit the ground, I started crying and probably let out few four letter words in relief.
Because for me, there was literally no other option.
I’m zoned for what Montgomery bureaucratically defines as a “failing district." These primary schools feed into high schools whose average ACT score is 14.9. You need a minimum of 18 or higher to enter most small community colleges. Their graduation rate is 76% - and Montgomery deemed their college and career readiness at 35%. There was no other place in Montgomery where I could afford the high rent to not be placed in one of Montgomery’s many “failing districts.” But I’m one the lucky ones whose daughter got the opportunity to even apply and whose name was picked by chance.
She’ll grow up in house without all privileges but enough. She in some ways already had a leg up and so our school system reached out its hand to lift her up further out of a layer of children that attend every single day a school that Montgomery itself categorizes openly as “failing.”
I lived on the very edge of nice neighborhood, the far rim of Cloverdale in a house with a giant hole in the living room I covered with a couch, a leak in the roof that caused a flood in the kitchen with every thunderstorm, and a landlord who wasn’t very apt to pick up the phone. I wasn’t renting through an agency so it meant the rent was just low enough to put us in place within walking distance of a clean park surrounded by upper middle class families--two parent homes with stay-at-home moms, much like most of the families that attend Tessa’s magnet school.
I of course wasn’t granted this luxury. I've had two jobs and still do, since she was 3. I've dropped her off at grandparents straight after school so I could wait tables, and shuffled her back into a car at 11:00 at night,only to start our day again at 6:00 in the morning. I've sweat over late projects, lack of field trip money and I've washed uniforms in the sink and dried them with a hairdryer around midnight hoping they would be dry.
If me and her get to remain on this track, Tessa has a great chance at a life better than the one I’m able to give her. But I can’t even attribute that success to my hard work or her natural inclination to learn. Like I said earlier, she got lucky. We got lucky. And there are too many children who didn’t and who will have little hope of crawling out of the cyclical poverty they were born into. I can’t believe I have to stand here and remind our elected officials that being poor should never mean you’re subject to a piss poor education.
Beth Cox is a member of Hometown Action's River Region chapter. She lives in Montgomery with her 6-year-old daughter. She works with children impacted by autism and is pursuing a degree in English.