For millions of K-12 students, the pandemic has led to unprecedented interruptions of critical education and services. Many students will continue to fall behind and face stunted educational trajectories. As Congress weighs relief during this time of great uncertainty, they must support all students in all schools. And they must reject any solution that extinguishes hope for millions of children of color in America who rely on private schools and school choice programs, just as we did.
Countless schools serving predominantly children from lower-income families have already announced permanent closure or are at-risk of such closure. This is devastating for families, students and communities. Mass closure of private schools will also devastate public school districts. Should 20% of private school students be reabsorbed into the public system, it will cost public schools and taxpayers roughly $15 billion. Furthermore, migration of students from private schools to public schools will directly impact reopening and capacity to comply with social distancing guidelines. Such a prospect is all the more ominous given the higher spread of contagion in minority communities.
But this crisis and its consequences threaten more than school funding formulas and the swift reopening of schools. It threatens a lifeline for children most in need of expanded opportunities right now. For many low-income and minority students, a lack of educational resources, compounded by the burden of low expectations, is the norm. And the notion of an equal system for all is nothing but an unrealized dream.
Statistically, a Black child in America is far more likely than a white child to fall behind in math and reading, never catch up, and drop out of high school. That reality fuels higher incidences of incarceration, a lifetime of less economic opportunity and stunted upward mobility—all leading to generational poverty.
Lasting solutions will require bipartisan action. But to be elected as a Democrat in America often involves a high-dollar marriage with the teachers’ unions. As Dr. Steve Perry, a celebrated Black educator, recently said of Joe Biden, “He’s going to choose big labor over Black people all day, every day.” Tragically, the pressure to align with the unions too often means Black politicians turn their backs on Black families, the overwhelming majority of whom want additional educational options.
That is why, on July 14, we sent letters to members of the Congressional Black Caucus urging support for a proposal to expand educational freedom and opportunity. In a time of crisis, those entrusted with the power to protect and serve our communities must rise to the occasion and ensure learning continues for all children in America. They know that a high-quality education has the power to change the life of a child in unassailable ways, just as a low-quality, inequitable education has the power to stifle the minds of students, especially those from low-income and minority communities. By law, parents face arrest for not sending their kids to school, but the law doesn’t provide a choice for parents to send them to a quality school.
We believe that Black lives matter, and that, to truly act on that, Black minds must have a space where they can truly thrive and succeed. So we hope this plea resonates with those who share our common experience of what it means to be Black in America: Think about the kids who grew up in the inner-city; The ones who dread going to school because they feel unsafe; The ones who walk into the classroom and teachers sigh because of their last name; The ones who believe they're destined to drop out of high school, just like their mother, uncle, and so many other family members did. Think about the kids who failed third grade twice and got into physical fights often.
We were those kids. Those are our stories.
But thanks to parental choice in K-12 education, our lives changed for the better. We had the opportunity to attend schools where teachers did not cap our potential based on our family history. Instead, they held us to high standards and cultivated our potential. Thanks to those opportunities, we are college graduates, fighting for all students to have the same chance for success and the necessary tools to chase dreams.
Now is the time to reject special interests that simultaneously demand billions of dollars for emergency aid to public schools, many of which refuse to reopen, while at the same time attempting to shutter charter schools and eject Black and brown children from private schools that, absent relief, may not survive the pandemic. We pray members of the Black Congressional Caucus, and all lawmakers in Congress, will do what is right and just for children and families in America and uphold freedom of educational choice and opportunity for all.
Walter Blanks Jr. is the Press Secretary for American Federation for Children (AFC) and a private school choice program beneficiary. From a young age, Walter recognized that many children are still stuck in underperforming schools and wanted to do something about it. Before joining AFC full-time, Walter was chosen for the first cohort of the American Federation for Children Future Leaders ...