School Choice, Republicans, and the African American Community

Building on what we have in common

Ruby Bridges

It seems increasingly obvious to me that a Republican nominee could build a foundation for black outreach by preaching that very sermon.

In fact, if I were a candidate, I wouldn’t wait till being nominated. I’d take up the cause right now and see what happens.

What if a candidate began now to go from city to city where local black leadership has championed school choice—and been turned aside by teachers’ unions and the politicians cowed by them?

What if they held hearings and recorded stories?

Held rallies where local minority leaders and the candidate himself gave speeches?

What if the last rally was in Washington, D.C.?

And the one before that was in Baltimore?

School choice is a strong intersection of African American felt needs and GOP/libertarian strengths of conviction.

Look at this:

Sean Higgins, Washington Examiner: School choice backer Scott sees rise in black support in Florida

November 9, 2014

Florida Gov. Rick Scott did something Tuesday that Republicans rarely do in elections: He doubled his share of the African-American vote from the last time he ran, picking up 12 percent on Tuesday, according to exit polls.

Education reform advocates such as former D.C. Councilman Kevin Chavous are pointing to that as proof that black voters responded to Scott’s support for school choice and his willingness to take on teachers unions.

“That’s the reason why Rick Scott won that election,” said Chavous, now executive counsel for the American Federation for Children, a pro-school choice group. “He really had no base of support in the African-American community but for this one issue.”

Lloyd Bentsen IV, National Center for Policy Analysis: Black Communities Support School Choice

In March 2013, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) commissioned asurvey of Black voters in four Southern states to gauge attitudes and opinions within the Black community on education reform, charter schools and the need for parental choice in their community. The findings indicate strong support among this significant segment of the population for greater freedom in K-12 education, widespread recognition of the need for better quality schools, and openness to charter schools and publicly funded scholarships as reform vehicles.

BAEO targeted Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi because of the high number of low-income and working-class Black families in these states who would potentially benefit from parental choice policies and other education reforms that have been the subject of recent and ongoing debate. Among the respondents, selected at random and broadly diverse in age and income:

  • Eighty-five percent to 89 percent in each state agreed that government should provide parents with as many choices as possible to ensure that their child receives a good education.
  • Fifty-five percent to 58 percent in each state (and 73 percent in the New Orleans area) said they would not send their children to the public schools to which they are currently assigned if they had a choice.
  • At least 50 percent in each state (and as many as seven in 10 in Mississippi) expressed support for charter schools.
  • In Alabama, even among those who rated their school excellent, 36 percent would opt out if they had the choice.
  • Less surprising, 74 percent of Black voters in Alabama who rated their community schools poorly expressed the desire to send their children elsewhere.
  • In Mississippi and Kentucky, a majority of Black voters rated the quality of public education as only fair, while just 14 percent in both states rated their local school systems as excellent.

The survey data underscore the fundamental appeal of parent choice and transformational education reform as concepts within the Black community.

I don’t know how many votes these actions would harvest for Republicans in 2016, but I’m convinced that investing in this effort would help prepare the soil for future outreach into the black community.

So here’s the question:

Which candidates would most be open to such an initiative, and which would be most effective?

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