Zero-Sum Vote: A Plea To Listen To Black And Brown Parents

Feb 29, 2024 12:00:00 PM


Once advocates for public school choice and diverse educational options, Democrats have lost their commitment to innovation. They lack fresh ideas, and their resistance to developing new schools leaves many of us feeling neglected. It's time for the party to recognize the value of Black mothers and listen to our concerns with the same attentiveness given to powerful lobbyists.

The vilification of charter schools is misguided. Many Black and brown families find them valuable, and the political establishment should acknowledge their success in providing quality education.

As a Black mom and a voter, I find myself at a crossroads in this upcoming election, facing what seems like a zero-sum game that fails to address the pressing needs of voters of color.

The dilemma lies in choosing whether to align with Democrats — who have made strides in decreasing unemployment and implementing student loan forgiveness but have fallen short in championing essential education reforms — or an alternative that risks compromising other critically important principles for school choice.

The agonizingly slow journey in the Democratic party toward meaningful K-12 education reforms leaves much to be desired. While politicians have presented student loan forgiveness as a win, the real solution is to provide a pathway that breaks intergenerational poverty and prepares young people to pursue dreams as bold and creative as they are.

That process must start in K-12 schools. Loan forgiveness means little for students who aren’t headed to or prepared to succeed in college. Wiping out college debt is great for people burdened by loans. However, it disproportionately favors certain demographics, neglecting the critical need to improve education, particularly for communities of color.

If Democrats genuinely value the votes of people of color, they must heed the cries for education reform. Recent polls in Chicago reveal that 82% of families in the Chicago Public Schools system believe they should have the right to choose the public school that best meets their child's needs. However, the Chicago Board of Education's December resolution to move away from selective enrollment, magnet, and charter schools directly contradicts the will of voters. Another national poll shows 87% of Black single mothers said a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.

The disconnect between Black families' needs and educational decisions, as seen in cities like Chicago, is glaring. Despite overwhelming support for school choice, the Chicago Board of Education is moving away from successful options like magnet and charter schools.

The political class must catch up with the realities faced by families nationwide. Democrats must realize that our support is not guaranteed, and they cannot afford to give us reasons to stay home on election day.

Despite evidence suggesting that Black and Latino students thrive in charter schools, many candidates and elected officials are willing to sacrifice our children’s education for political sustainability. Enrollment in traditional schools has declined post-pandemic, while charters and homeschooling for Black and Brown students have increased.

Large urban school districts like Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago face impending fiscal cliffs, and teacher attrition is at an all-time high. The focus, however, remains on eliminating public school options, perpetuating a monopoly that stifles diversity in education.

We find ourselves at a critical juncture where we can grow excellence in public education and allocate opportunities more fairly. It's about expanding the pie while ensuring a more equitable distribution, benefiting everyone, including teachers and individuals in traditional public schools.

We must collectively reimagine public schools to include ALL options. The monopoly of traditional public schools, sustained by political decisions to eliminate alternatives, places voters in a powerless zero-sum position.

President Biden’s administration must invite diverse voices to the education table, as the people have spoken loudly, and it appears the administration is tone-deaf to their concerns. Anti-reform voices, though representing a portion of educators and voters, do not have the pulse of education at their fingertips. They intend to preserve a system that has worked for them, even though it is not working for most teachers, families, and students who advocate for better public education options.

My message to the Democratic Party is clear: Stop playing games with Black families. To move beyond zero-sum thinking, we must acknowledge that the Biden Administration has to do better when it comes to education. They need to lead this transformative shift. Should they fail to listen, Black and Brown parents are prepared to do whatever it takes to secure the better education our children deserve.  

I implore the Biden administration to listen to the collective voices demanding change in K-12 education. It is time to break away from the status quo, dismantle the monopoly of traditional public schools, and ensure that educational policies cater to the diverse needs of all communities, especially those historically marginalized. The power to transform education lies in embracing inclusivity and acknowledging that a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer sufficient for the evolving needs of society.

Jay Artis-Wright

Jay Artis-Wright serves as the Executive Director of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools (FCCS). The FCCS advocates for the enhancement and establishment of high-quality educational choices for students from these communities. Jay has more than two decades of experience spanning public policy, education, advocacy, and community mobilization.

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