Education From a family worry to a new career Angela and Dedrick Briggs, Nashville
By Ellen McGirt

(MONEY Magazine) – Like all dads, Dedrick Briggs, 36, wants the best education for his kids. But the public schools in Nashville are in tough shape: 68% of them don't meet standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. So he and his wife Angela have made sacrifices. Five years ago, when their eldest daughter was approaching school age and Briggs was earning nearly six figures in sales--enough to afford private school--he took a pay cut of almost 50% to work toward improving public schools for everyone. As he puts it, "What options do parents without money have?"

He began a new career in the charter-school movement, eventually becoming the executive director of the Tennessee Charter School Resource Center. "All the bonuses in the world can't compare to what we've been able to do." And Angela, 36, is now homeschooling their daughter Perri, 10, while Piersen, 6, attends a regular public school.

Charter schools are nonprofit public schools that are independent of local school districts (which can mean opposition from districts faced with losing pupils and funding). The first one opened in Minnesota in 1992; as of 2003, nearly 2,700 charter schools are operating in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Charter schools are free from some rules that traditional schools face, like collective bargaining and mandatory curriculums. The schools must still meet state standards or risk being shut down. They get less per-pupil funding from states, so they rely on fund raising and bond issues to fill the gaps and keep administrative costs low.

When Briggs joined the Resource Center staff in 1999, Tennessee had yet to pass charter-school legislation. "I knew nothing about lobbying, but I know a lot about sales," he says. "We know that charter schools help kids. I just stuck with that message." His tenacity paid off in 2002, when the bill passed after a five-year battle. Today 450 kids are attending four charter schools in Tennessee. Notes Briggs: "Everyone wins when kids get educated." --ELLEN McGIRT