By Dr. Margaret Fortune
Fortune School of Education in conjunction with National Action Network (NAN) Sacramento, Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools, Sacramento Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and The Alpha Community Education Initiative has released a poll called “What Black Voters Think” during the NAN Sacramento Rise Up! Virtual Conference.
We developed the poll as a way to truly understand what Black voters view as the most critical issues they are facing right now. More than half of Black parents said education was most important, eclipsing their concerns about health care, housing and climate change — the issues that tend to dominate the conversation in “progressive” circles. Only the economy ranked higher than education on the list of what Black parents who are registered to vote said affected them most on a daily basis. COVID relief came in a close third.
The survey, conducted in February 2021 by Applecart Research on behalf of Fortune School of Education, includes responses from 1,290 Black registered voters in California and key 2020 Presidential swing states including Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio.
The majority of respondents surveyed have spent a significant amount of money on education-related expenses during the pandemic — 71 percent of parents polled said they or someone they know has spent money out-of-pocket to cover educational expenses due to COVID-19 school closures. The American Rescue Plan includes $129 billion for K-12 education. While that windfall is headed to schools, the next human infrastructure spending plan out of Washington may go equally big for families.
When asked about their support for public charter schools, 71 percent of California Black registered voters surveyed said they supported charters. According to a CalMatters report, public school enrollment in California has hit a 20-year low while enrollment jumped by 15,000 students in public charter schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite facing political headwinds among some Democratic politicians, there is no denying public charter schools are as popular among parents now as when President Barack Obama championed them as America’s first Black president.
Charter schools are public schools, tuition free to parents with open enrollment to students. In California, where more than 690,000 students are enrolled in a charter school, charters are authorized by locally elected school boards or the state, operated exclusively by non-profit organizations or school districts and are held accountable for academic results. Charter schools are held accountable to the same transparency laws for governance and finance that apply to school districts — with one big exception. If charter schools fail to follow the rules, they are closed, not so with school districts.
Nearly all of California’s top majority Black public schools are actually charter schools led or founded by Black people who have used chartering to specifically create schools that are open to all and aimed at educating Black children to a level of excellence.
Poll results show Black voters support this work. In California, 85% of poll respondents agreed that we need more Black educators and community members to lead publicly funded schools that provide equity, empowerment, and high quality education for all students. Black registered voters in swing states agreed at higher rates with 88% saying more Blacks should be in school leadership.
This poll reveals, in spite of everything we have faced over the last year, Black families will do anything they can to make sure their children have educational opportunities. Blacks are more informed and empowered to seek an understanding of what a high-quality education should look like and why it’s important for their children. Elected officials must take heed, and create and pass policies that are also in support of the issues Blacks care about most — the economy and high quality education.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a network of K-12 public charter schools based in Sacramento, California she founded to close the African American Achievement gap in her hometown. Dr. Fortune has been an education adviser to two California governors and is a delegate to the California Democratic Party (CDP). Fortune is on the executive boards of the CDP Black Caucus and National Action Network Sacramento, an affiliate of Rev. Al Sharpton’s national civil rights organization.