School Choice Isn’t The Enemy of Public Education.

Even though students across the nation continue to face daily uncertainties in the wake of the pandemic, Cafeteria Workers from the largest school system in North Carolina staged a sickout by demanding better pay and improved working conditions.

With more than 40 Title 1 schools serving the Wake County community, who are committed to equitably preparing its students for productive citizenship, college, or careers, it seems that challenges with misguided promises and roadblocks outweighs any hopes of repairing a broken system.

School Choice is the only reasonable solution to remedy the educational divide created by a system that can barely support its current infrastructure. 

Wake County Public School System serves more than 159,000 students at nearly more than 180 schools across the triangle and last month leaders sent notice warning parents that the sickout would impact food services at surrounding schools, strongly encouraging families to send food with the students to school.

Vowing to make every effort to provide food, children were not guaranteed meal service during the strikeout. This message was followed by a subsequent apology for the mere inconvenience but no accountability for failing to provide meal service (flexibilities proposed to all students across the country last May by the U.S. Department of Agriculture). 

According to a 2019 report, 28 percent of students attending seven Wake County Public Schools, lived in low-income households, to add, more than 50,000 of those students qualified for the Free or Reduced Lunch Program (FRLP) equating to living at or below the poverty level.

Of those seven Wake County Public School System schools, more than 70 percent of students in the 2020-21 school year qualified for FRLP, and all but one is located in the 27610 ZIP code. In each of the seven schools, nearly more than half of the student population is Black and more than 88 percent of those students are children of color.

Of the seven WCPSS schools where more than 70 percent of students in the 2020-21 school year qualify for FRLP, all but one is in the 27610 ZIP code. In each of the seven schools, more than half of the student population is Black and more than 88 percent of the students are children of color. By contrast, there are six Wake County Public Schools where more than 75 percent of the students are white and are located in affluent Raleigh Suburban neighborhoods.

To paint a more precise picture, the percentage of students participating in the Free or Reduced Lunch Program in these six schools is 10 percent or less. The only major exception is that 16 percent of those students are at or below the poverty level. 

In data collected for Wake County, North Carolina is home to a population of 1.11M people with a median household income of $84,215. 

The ethnic groups that make up Wake County, NC are White (Non-Hispanic) (59.4%), African American (Non-Hispanic) (5.22%), Asian (Non-Hispanic) (7.52%), White (Hispanic) (5.22%), and Other (Hispanic) (3.89%). The most commonly spoken languages in Wake County, NC are Chinese, Spanish, and Hindi. 

The current issues that Wake County Public School System is facing relates to accountability with building sustainable partnerships and closing the pedagogy divide with the community and stakeholders’ slow response to school choice.

The Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program happens to be the largest voucher program for the state of North Carolina, and it provides access to low-income families to opt out of their local public schools that are failing to meet the needs of their kids. Due to the lack of resources and the misappropriation of funds, students are struggling to meet academic milestones and schools are failing students all across the state. 

Many individuals are uninformed and may not know or understand the severity of living in food-insecure communities and the roadblocks it creates for students and their education.

In the United States, home to 329.5 million people, 11 million of those represent children living in food-insecure homes.

On a national level, there are federal programs that aid but access to those resources is not reaching those families in certain communities. Universal free meals would be a more obvious solution, but the dialog only goes as far as placing limits on how children are educated by restricting access to school choice and inadvertently redlining through redistricting. 

Wake County Public School students have experienced student reassignments more than they have been able to become fully acclimated with a consistent educational structure. 

School choice eliminates those inconsistent reassignments and enables families to send their children to schools that are available and present to inspire and equip them for success. North Carolina has grown exponentially in the past decade, and the need for more schools is also growing each year.

Because North Carolina offers a variety of learning environments that range from homeschools, learning pods, public charter schools, online academies, public magnet schools, private schools, traditional public schools, parents are able to eliminate the current roadblocks in North Carolina pedagogy through school choice. 

As an educator, I feel more comfortable advocating for school choice to become a permanent fixture for families in North Carolina than debating on whether raising property taxes to support educator salaries is another roadblock disenfranchising student access to an adequate and appropriate education.

I can not effectively perform my role as an educator in a system that cannot even adequately support its current infrastructure. School choice not only gives students the option for a better education, but it also provides an avenue for educators like me to really make an impact and change the dialog on pedagogy in the 21st century.  

Jamial Black is Elementary Site Coordinator for Avent West Children’s Mentoring. He is a 2022 AAEF Advocacy Fellow dedicated to closing the educational divide.


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