Opinion Extra

Op-ed: Democratic candidates should support more school choice options

This past weekend, twenty-one 2020 presidential candidates visited our state for the South Carolina Democratic Party’s annual convention. As an educator and community leader, I listened for the candidate with the right solution to provide our state’s children with the best, high-quality educational opportunities.

Providing and promoting innovative and equitable education for our next generation of leaders will be a contributing factor to the success or failure of any economic plan, immigration policy, health care reform, or climate change proposal. The candidate who gets my vote must support increasing our public school options through traditional and charter public schools and cannot be indifferent to maintaining that support — or worse, concoct strategies to roll back that progress.

Public charters have opened doors for millions, especially children of color, who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to learn. According to a recent survey from Democrats for Education Reform, more than 50 percent of Black and Hispanic Democratic voters support charter schools. Instead of calling for limits on families’ choices, those vying for the highest office in the land must listen to these communities. Families of color know what’s best for their children — not policymakers who may have never even set foot in a public charter school where kids are thriving.

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South Carolina’s children in particular have so much to gain — or lose — from the leader we choose in 2020. In 77 schools across the Palmetto State, more than 35,000 students are getting the opportunities that used to only be available to a privileged few. Imagine how many more of our state’s 800,000 school-aged children want those same opportunities but are wait-listed or live in communities where a new public charter school can’t open because of a lack of funding? Our leaders — especially those aiming for the White House — must ensure that none of our kids are left wanting and waiting.

One candidate in particular, Sen. Bernie Sanders, champions wrong-headed policies on charter schools that perpetuate misperceptions about support among Democrats and families of color for these schools that don’t square with the realities we see with our own eyes. Instead of listening to teachers, students, and families who want more public educational opportunities, Sen. Sanders calls for less. The Vermont senator would impose a moratorium on new public charter schools because he claims they don’t operate with “transparency and accountability” and an outright ban for-profit charters. First of all, there are zero for-profit charters in South Carolina because all public charter schools are required by law to be nonprofit. Secondly, these same public charters must follow state ethics laws, file 990’s with the IRS, and make these filings available to the public. Sen. Sanders’ attacks and mischaracterizations aren’t even relevant to our education conversation in South Carolina.

While Sen. Sanders is the most vocal opponent of limiting public education options for our children, it’s up to each of the 2020 presidential candidates to clearly demonstrate a commitment to high-quality education and the role they must play as president to push policies that secure it.

The estimated 5 million children in the U.S. who want to attend a charter school — but no spaces are available to them — need our next president to be an advocate of more high-quality public education options, not less. We can’t lower that standard for any presidential candidate because our children deserve that and more.

Dr. Victoria Dixon-Mokeba is founding director of Carolina School for Inquiry where she serves as the Head of School and also as the school’s instructional leader.
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