Debate Over School Choice’s Impact On Black Students Intensifies

Advocates argue for equal opportunities, while critics raise concerns about racial segregation and funding

<p>School choice refers to programs offering alternatives to assigned local public school options, including open enrollment policies, school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and education savings accounts (ESAs). PHOTO BY BALLOTPEDIA</p>

School choice refers to programs offering alternatives to assigned local public school options, including open enrollment policies, school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and education savings accounts (ESAs). Today, we’re going to examine arguments about whether these programs hurt or help Black students.

Daniel Buck writes that school choice promotes equal educational opportunities for poor students and students of color. Buck says most wealthy families have the means to choose private schools or move school districts to send their children to better public schools. He says many poor and minority families are legally stuck in failing schools and that school choice policies could help them pursue better opportunities.

School choice refers to programs offering alternatives to assigned local public school options, including open enrollment policies, school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and education savings accounts (ESAs). PHOTO BY BALLOTPEDIA

Raymond Pierce writes that school choice promotes racial segregation and hurts Black students. Pierce says most Black students attend public schools, while private schools have majority-white attendance. He says school choice takes money away from public schools and redirects it to private schools, taking resources away from Black students.

School Choice: For All but the Poor | Daniel Buck, FEE Stories

“Opponents of school choice argue, perhaps above all else, that school choice will benefit the rich and hurt the poor; in reality, in our current system, suburban districts compete for students, and the poor are trapped by the law. They have no choice. &mldr; Affluent families are able to move districts and pay higher property taxes to fund better education, while the poor are stuck by law in failing neighborhood schools. &mldr; School choice would remove the necessity to move districts in order to change schools—and thereby the financial barrier—so that it is easier for any student to seek out the best education regardless of socioeconomic status. These barriers have become a felt injustice, and school choice, a potential solution, has earned the support of the African-American community.”

The Racist History Of “School Choice” | Raymond Pierce, Forbes

“What we should not do is take money from those troubled schools and put it into private schools, a too frequent practice often referred to as “school choice,” that has historically racist foundations. &mldr; Most of these [school choice] bills promote tax credits, school vouchers, or ‘education savings accounts.’ All of them drain money from underfunded, under-resourced public schools into private schools. And while some proponents of these bills say that they will improve education opportunities for Black and Brown students and students from low-income families, the truth is that they do not. &mldr; The truth is that voucher and tax credit programs structure choices to promote de facto segregation, contravene constitutional considerations, and threaten to dismantle hard-fought and socially beneficial historical progress. They represent a serious setback for universal free public education and the equality and equity goals it promotes.”

School choice refers to programs offering alternatives to assigned local public school options, including open enrollment policies, school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and education savings accounts (ESAs). PHOTO BY BALLOTPEDIA

Union vote to decide future of Florida’s largest teachers union

On Jan. 16, United Teachers of Dade County (UTD), Florida’s largest teachers union, announced that more than 30% of its members signed statements backing the organization—a necessary step in maintaining its right to bargain on behalf of teachers. UTD will now need to hold an election and win the support of a majority of votes cast to keep its contract.  

UTD, which represents around 30,000 employees in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, has been at risk of losing its state certification since December 2023, when it failed to 

meet a threshold established in a new law requiring unions to demonstrate that at least 60% of eligible members pay union dues. UTD said that as of November, 58.4 % of eligible members paid dues.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the largest district in Florida and the third-largest in the country, with an estimated enrollment of 347,300 students.  

The union said:
“While we have enrolled more than 800 new members, an unprecedented growth in the past five months, we have not achieved the new 60% membership density of members mandated by the onerous anti-worker law, Senate Bill 256.” 

Gov. Ron DeSantis (D) signed SB 256 on May 9. The bill requires recertification if the number of dues-paying union members is less than 60% of eligible employees and prohibits unions from deducting dues “from the salaries of those employees in the unit.” 

DeSantis said, “By signing the Paycheck Protection Act, Florida teachers will be able to choose how their hard-earned money is spent. School unions will no longer be able to hold teachers’ paychecks hostage with veiled threats while hiding where the money goes.”

Unions representing law enforcement officers, correctional officers, correctional probation officers, or firefighters are exempt from some of the bill’s provisions. 

Karla Hernandez, UTD’s president, was gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist’s (D) running mate in 2022. DeSantis defeated Crist 59.4% to 40% to win re-election. 

As a first step in the decertification process, UDT was allowed to try to collect signatures from 30% of members affirming their support for the union. The next step is an election. If UTD wins the support of more than 50% of votes cast, it would need to clear the 60% dues-paying threshold again in 2025. 

The date of the vote has yet to be set. Employees could vote to keep UTD, go without representation, or choose a new union. 

An alternative organization, the Miami-Dade Education Coalition (MDEC), hopes to be that new union. According to the MDEC’s website, it is “a registered employee organization, founded by educators, dedicated to serving the teachers and other education professionals of Miami-Dade County Public Schools for the purposes of collective bargaining regarding wages, hours, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment for M-DCPS educators.”

The MDEC is backed by The Freedom Foundation, a think tank that opposes the UTD and says it battles “the entrenched power of left-wing government union bosses who represent a permanent lobby for bigger government, higher taxes, and radical social agendas.” Current Miami-Dade County Public Schools educators hold MDEC’s leadership roles. 

MDEC says its dues would be lower than the UTD’s because it would not send dues to statewide or national teachers unions, like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). To qualify as an alternative to the UTD, the MDEC would only need to collect 10% of employee signatures in the Miami-Dade Public Schools district. 

UTD is not the only Florida teachers union fighting to keep its certification under the new law. The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association (PCTA), for example, which represents 7,000 employees, is in the process of collecting signatures from 30% of eligible members to hold an election. The PCTA’s recertification date is Feb. 9. 

According to a 2018 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey, about 69% of teachers reported being union members. However, membership in the NEA and the AFT, the country’s largest teachers unions, has declined since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that public sector unions cannot require non-member employees to pay fees covering the costs of non-political union activities. The NEA lost more than 115,000 members between 2017 and 2022, while the AFT lost around 52,000 members since 2021. 

In Janus, SCOTUS overturned its 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the court said it was not a violation of employees’ First Amendment rights to require them to pay fees to support the union activities from which they benefited, like collective bargaining. 

According to Education Next’s Daniel DiSalvo and Michael Hartney, “Janus immediately affected the finances of the NEA and the AFT as both unions lost revenue from former fee payers—ranging from about 2 percent to 10 percent of teachers in the states that had permitted agency fees. On top of that, some members decided to opt out of the union and no longer pay dues.”

Overall union membership peaked in 1954, when 34.8% of all workers belonged to a union, but declined over the following decades. In 1983, the rate dropped to 20.1%, and it fell to 10% in 2023. However, in the public sector, union membership in 2023 was 33%

The map below categorizes states by whether they prohibit collective bargaining for public school employees, permit voluntary collective bargaining, or whether public employers have a duty to bargain with unions. Data is current as of January 2023. 

Extracurricular: education news and numbers from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Numbers of the week

  • In 2023, 17 states implemented new policies related to the science of reading.   
  • An average of 22 teens between the ages of 14 and 18 died in the U.S. each week from drug overdoses
  • One in seven students will experience a change in where they live or attend school each year.
  • An estimated 30.4 million students have school meal debt

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Today, we’re featuring surveys from two candidates running in school board elections on March 5 (in the coming weeks, we’ll be bringing you a big picture look at where school board elections are happening across the country). Josh Wallenstein (D) is one of two candidates running in the Democratic primary for Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees Position 3, At-Large in Texas. Andreas Farmakalidis is one of five candidates running in the nonpartisan primary for Los Angeles Unified Board of Education District 3. 

Wallenstein and Farmakalidis are the only candidates in their respective races who’ve completed the survey so far.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is the largest school district in the U.S., with an estimated enrollment of 435,958. The Harris County Department of Education is not a school district, but provides services to students and educators in Harris County, including the Houston Independent School District (HISD). The HISD is the largest district in Texas, with an estimated enrollment of 210,061.

  • “Demonstrated Commitment: I am an anti-corruption attorney. Eight years ago, I and spent 18 months publicly protesting corruption and cronyism at the HCDE Board – we made good trouble and effected real, positive change! Now that schools and teachers are under attack, it is more important than ever that education-focused offices are not mere stepping stones to higher office; officeholders must instead demonstrate their dedication to serve the county for a full six-year term.
  • Focus on Greatest Needs: I will expand the HCDE’s vocational training programs (for adults) and its Head Start opportunities (for kids), as well as provide mental health resources (for students). I will also l increase funding for the Tools for Teachers program (which provides free school materials to teachers that otherwise have to pay out of their own pocket.)
  • Tireless Advocacy and Transparency: I will fight to retain and improve the HCDE. Because the HCDE is partially funded by taxes, there is constant legislative pressure to eliminate it. Any suggestion of unfair dealing and conflicts of interests threaten its survival. To avoid even the perception of impropriety, I will institute a strong, department-wide conflict of interest policy and whistleblower hotline.”

Click here to read the rest of Wallenstein’s responses. 

Here’s how Farmakalidis answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?”

  • “Fostering an environment where music and arts programs thrive, recognizing their pivotal role in holistic development.
  • Maintain fiscal prudence and directing funds appropriately, I envision a robust educational system that not only nurtures individual talents but also addresses the diverse needs of every learner. It’s about creating a space where every child has the opportunity to flourish, contributing their unique strengths to a richer, more inclusive society.
  • Ensuring school safety is my top priority for the LAUSD. I’m committed to implementing comprehensive measures that prioritize the well-being of students, teachers, and staff. This includes investing in security systems, mental health resources, and fostering a collaborative community approach. Together, we can create a safe and supportive learning environment for every child in the LAUSD.”

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey. If you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!

In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey. 
The survey contains over 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. 

Produced in association with Ballotpedia