The following article appeared as an op-ed in the Fayetteville Observer on October 23, 2019
Underneath the carefully choreographed unified exterior, signs are emerging that the coalition that helped to elect Democratic politicians for decades may be fracturing.
Black and Hispanic parents, longtime supporters of Democratic Party politicians, are now the biggest supporters of charter schools and voucher programs, policies directly at odds with teachers’ unions, a traditional and powerful Democratic constituency. The Washington Times is reporting that prior to last month’s Democratic presidential primary debate, dozens of black and Hispanic protestors urged party leaders to end their allegiance to teachers’ unions and support charter schools.
The divisions in the movement are real. Recent poll numbers from Education Next found that Democrats who identify as African American approve of targeted vouchers, universal vouchers and charter schools by a margin of 70, 64 and 55 percent, respectively. Among Hispanic Democrats, support for the three policies registers at 67, 60 and 47 percent. Meanwhile just 40 percent of Non-Hispanic white Democrats support targeted vouchers, 46 percent approve of universal vouchers and only 33 percent endorse charter schools.
In October the Benenson Strategy Group released a poll that showed 81 percent of Democratic primary voters and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters support a proposal to expand choices within the public schools system including “magnet schools, career academies, and public charter schools.”
Political winds are already shifting. In Florida in 2018, 100,000 African-American moms chose the Republican Ron DeSantis over the African-American, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum for one reason: school choice. Those 100,000 votes determined the election’s outcome.
Could traditional voting shifts come to North Carolina? Gov. Roy Cooper has a long history of opposition to school choice programs and has recommended freezing and phasing out the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which provides vouchers of up to $4,200 to eligible children to attend a school of their choice.
Cooper’s stance could hurt him with a key voting bloc. In January 2019, the Civitas Poll found statewide black support for charter schools eclipsed white support by 82 to 74 percent, while white opposition to charters was also higher (18 percent vs 10 percent).
There are signs that at least some lawmakers have become increasingly aware of these trends. In 2017, eight black legislators held a press conference where they expressed support for vouchers and charter schools. The event was newsworthy because it was the first time a group of state Democratic lawmakers publicly expressed support for school choice, a policy that previously had only been advocated by Republicans.
Despite the recent trends, it still appears there is far more progress needed to crack the Democratic opposition to school choice. If anything, many Democrats only appear to be doubling down. At a recent forum of Democratic candidates for state superintendent, candidates were unanimous in their opposition to charter and voucher programs. Such positions should not be surprising given the sizeable financial influence the North Carolina Association of Educators and the National Education Association still hold in North Carolina state politics.
So, will minorities vote their sentiments? When asked in the Civitas Poll if you would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate for state legislature who supports giving parents more educational options, 38 percent of whites said much more likely along with 53 percent of blacks.
Democrats have long portrayed their party as an advocate for minorities and for equal opportunity. The embrace of radical teachers’ unions and the heavy-handed opposition to choice not only raises legitimate questions about the party’s commitment to equality and expanding educational opportunity, but also reveals that most Democrats continue to ignore the voices of the poor and minorities, desperate for choices to escape the educational crisis they confront.
Minority voters can play a key role in upcoming elections. If black and Hispanic voters vote their sentiments, it will expand educational opportunity for those who need it most. It will also likely fracture and force a reshaping of the Democratic coalition, making the upcoming election season even more eventful.
Bob Luebke is Director of Policy for the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh