Eighty-five out of 10o African-American voters in North Carolina believe state lawmakers should do more to expand school choice, according to a new poll from the nonprofit Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.
The poll, released Aug. 31, was launched in June by PEFNC and surveyed 800 black voters, asking them if they believe the state’s K-12 school system disenfranchises or marginalizes their children.
“As applications from African-American families pour in for the Opportunity Scholarship Program year after year, we face a conundrum,” said Darrell Allison, president of PEFNC. “How do we reconcile such robust demands for school choice from families of color when … opposition comes from elected officials of color, officials that have made it their point to help families of constituents?”
Demand for Opportunity Scholarships is disproportionately high among black families, Allison said, pointing to U.S. Census Bureau data showing that while African-Americans comprise 22 percent of North Carolina’s population, that same group makes up nearly 40 percent of the state scholarship program’s total applicant pool.
The Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was established in 2013 by a General Assembly under Repubican control, has been one of many K-12 education issues hotly contested by members of the state legislature’s Democratic minority.
PEFNC poll respondents who answered questions about state-funded scholarships, charter schools, and traditional public schools provided the following insights into how the African-American community views such school choice debates, Allison said.
— Eighty-five percent said the state government needs to do more to provide educational options for African-American parents. Of the remaining respondents, 7 percent said the government was doing enough, while 8 percent said they were unsure.
— Sixty-five percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports giving parents more educational options for their children. Of the remaining respondents, 14 percent said they would be less likely to support such a candidate, 14 percent said it would make no difference, and the remaining 7 percent were unsure.
— Sixty-four percent said parents should have the ability to choose their child’s K-12 school through state-funded scholarships. Of the remaining respondents, 20 percent said parents should not have the ability to choose state-funded scholarships, and 15 percent said they were unsure.
— Fifty-nine percent said they favor school choice. Of the remaining respondents, 23 percent were in opposition, and 18 percent were unsure.
— Fifty-six percent said they favor public charter schools. Of the remaining respondents, 24 percent were opposed.
PEFNC also found that half of African-American voters were “not very” or “not at all” familiar with the Opportunity Scholarship Program, Allison said, with voters in the lowest income bracket registering as less informed than voters with more affluence.
These poll results are evidence that African-American families need — and want — more freedom to choose how and where their children are educated, said Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, who during the 2016 legislative session helped sponsor a bill to rehabilitate five of the state’s most failed public schools.
“Right now there is an absolute crisis going on in traditional public schools,” Brockman said. “We have two-thirds of African-Americans who are not achieving on grade level in our traditional public schools. It might get me in trouble [to say this], but we all know that if this was a white majority of two-thirds of kids who are not achieving on grade level, we would make sure that we did everything we could to change the status quo.
“That’s one of the great things that I appreciate about the Opportunity Scholarships, and charter schools, and choices in general, because it empowers parents, and it changes the status quo. And I don’t know why any politician … would want to stand in the way of a parent making that decision for their children, especially when you consider the fact that for whatever reason they are not succeeding in a traditional public school setting.”
Kari Travis is associate editor and social media specialist at Carolina Journal.