Mr. President: If you force me to choose, you will lose

OPINION: The Biden administration's proposal to cut funding to the Charter Schools Program will leave parents little choice come November.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I vote in every election. When it comes to casting a ballot, whether it’s for president, Congress, state legislators, governor, mayor or city council, I am always going to vote based on what’s best for my child. There is nothing a candidate can say about any issue that will change this calculus. If I don’t believe my child will be better off with that person in office, they will not get my vote.

And I am not alone. There are millions of Americans — white, Black, Hispanic, Democrat, Republican, rural, suburban, urban — who will make the very same decision come November. Choosing to put our kids first is not a political issue; it’s just how we are wired.

This is why President Biden faces significant headwinds as we approach November. And so do other Democratic candidates up and down the ballot who seem to be unclear about the priorities of some of their most important constituents, parents.

Parents of K-12 students make up 40% of the U.S. electorate and according to a survey commissioned by the Harris Poll, 82% of them are willing to vote outside their political party based on the candidate’s position on education, which is a particularly acute issue for Black mothers like me.

For decades, we have been promised that brighter days are ahead and that elected leaders are working toward creating equity in areas like education and the workforce. But now we are tired of waiting. We want something better right now.

That is why it was initially encouraging to hear during the State of the Union address when President Biden announced a laudable goal of all children reading by the third grade. The optimism was short-lived.

Just a couple of days later, President Biden’s proposed budget called for cutting investments in charter schools, which predominantly serve Black and brown students.


I was understandably puzzled. How, exactly, are we supposed to get to this laudable goal by slashing the only source of federal funding for the startup, growth, replication, and expansion of these public schools that serve our students so well? There is never a cost to attend a charter school and, according to research from Stanford, the average charter student gains an equivalent of 16 additional learning days in reading in a year, and six additional days of learning in math.

It’s hard to interpret a proposed cut to the Charter Schools Program as anything other than harmful to our children.

We want our kids to at least have a fighting chance at achieving their dreams. We want them to be prepared for great careers that will help diminish income inequality. We are not talking about theories and hypotheticals. These are our children, and it is time to move with more urgency.

I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 1963 letter from Birmingham Jail, in which he responded to those encouraging Blacks to just “wait.”

Dr. King remarked, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

Sixty years later, we remain impatient and rightfully so. Black children are still behind their white peers in reading and math. Their median weekly earnings, among those ages 16 to 24, is $133 less than white workers. And they are far more likely to end up in poverty or prison.

It is no wonder that according to a recent poll of Black single mothers, 69% believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and only 7% believe it’s on the right track. Fatigue is making us quite restless. Black women voters are an important voting bloc. Why? Because we tip elections.

To begin to rebuild trust, President Biden must demonstrate that he’s listening to us.  

He must show that he understands the value Black voters place on education and having better public school options by demonstrating his support for the schools we choose. President Biden must understand that if we’re going to reach the literacy goal he set out, it’s only achievable if Black and Brown families can actually access high-quality schools.

My home state of Florida can serve as a cautionary tale for President Biden. In 2018, Andrew Gillum ignored the wishes of Black voters and came out against school choice options that met the needs of underserved communities throughout the state. Gillum received around 40,000 fewer votes among Blacks than fellow Florida Democrat Bill Nelson received in his Senate race that same election day. Gillum lost to Ron DeSantis by 32,463 votes.

President Biden, do the math and please don’t take our vote for granted. 

Debbie Veney is a senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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