“School Choice is the civil rights issue of today.” These powerful words are from a powerful civil rights icon named Reverend HK Matthews. Rev. Matthews made this statement on a video he recently provided in his support for Senate Bill 1452 which is legislation that will help low-income families receive the best education possible through a school choice program called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts or ESA’s.
Rev. Matthews marched in Selma, Alabama in 1965, demonstrated with Martin Luther King Jr., was beaten, and was jailed 35 times in his advocating for equality, so if anyone is qualified to speak on civil rights, it is Rev. Matthews. At 93 years old, he is considered a living legend and is still fighting for civil rights, and that fight is for school choice.
I agree with Rev. Matthews because I was a product of school choice myself and know personally what a lifesaving tool it is. As a poor black kid from the south side of Chicago, I was able to attend one of the best private schools on a football scholarship and going to that school allowed me to achieve my dreams of playing in the NFL.
Education is the one great equalizer that can provide the best way out of a bad situation, it was for me and I know that this is especially true for our low-income and minority children.
Some people ask me, ‘What is school choice?”, and put simply, it is the freedom for parents to have their child receive whatever education they think is best. We know that all children don’t learn the same, so having different education options is crucial. Options include district, charter, and private schools, online/virtual options, in-home tutoring, micro schools, pods, or whatever helps with each child’s individual learning needs.
Remember, education dollars are really just tax dollars from parents, so parents ought to be able to have a say on how their dollars are spent on their kids’ education.
Rev. Matthews and I are not alone in supporting school choice for our students especially during this dire time where students of color are failing at record numbers due to distance learning. In committee, Senator Paul Boyer referenced a very recent poll conducted in Arizona by Cygnal (named by the New York Times the most accurate pollster in the nation) which had irrefutable results:
- 77% of Arizonans believe that COVID has caused students to fall behind in their learning because of the mass school closures and distance learning.
- 75% said they support school choice.
- 73% said low-income kids in Arizona should have access to an ESA to help them catch up in their learning loss (only 12% disagreed).
The poll shows that minorities and Democrats, of which I am both, support school choice and ESA’s even more so than Caucasians and Republicans. This only reinforces what we are seeing both nationally and in Arizona, that people of all parties and race support low-income and black and brown students (who are now about 12 months behind their white counterparts) to receive the help they desperately need. While this disparity has always been a problem in the minority community, COVID has made it even worse.
All of this brings me to the recent vote on Senate Bill 1452, legislation that would provide ESA’s to low-income families which will allow them to use their tax dollars to provide the best education for their children. Even though Democrats like myself (and the 73-75% of Democrats surveyed that support school choice and ESA’s for low-income kids), not one Democrat has yet to vote for this needed legislation.
On top of that, the Democrat Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman even sent her lobbyist (paid by public tax dollars) to oppose this bill when it was heard in Committee last week.
They keep saying they want to increase funding to schools, but we should care more about students rather than buildings, that’s why it’s called per-pupil funding, not per-school funding. We need to get out of the mindset that we need to prop up and support physical schools ahead of supporting kids.
This leads to my disappointment of the anti-school choice group Save Our Schools, who also testified against the bill. Their problem starts with their name as they are more interested in supporting brick and mortar schools and the funding that goes to them then they are in supporting or “saving” our students.
In closing, to address those who will not support giving low-income and minority kids every option possible to make up learning losses from COVID, I once again refer to the words of Rev. Matthews and say, “Shame on you!”
Drew Anderson currently serves as Lead Pastor of Legacy Christian Center in Phoenix and the Chaplain of the NFL Alumni Association in Arizona, and played linebacker in the NFL for the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals