Education—the answer to many of the problems ailing our country—is getting the least amount of attention from the candidates on the presidential campaign trail.
According to a November 2015 Gallup poll, only 4% of Americans consider education or education policy to be the most important problem facing our nation. Respondents instead cited the economy, poorly run government, immigration, gun control and health care of most concern. While I agree that these are important issues, we at 100 Black Men of America, Inc. (The 100) believe that without a quality education, many young people, particularly African-Americans, will be condemned to lives of poverty, incarceration and despair.
As a nonprofit mentoring organization, the education of our youth is one of our top concerns. Schools with caring and nurturing environments, high-performing teachers, rigorous curriculum and the proper materials and technology are some of the key ingredients to preparing our kids to successfully graduate high school, handle college-level coursework without requiring remediation, compete in global marketplace and become productive members of society. In our advocacy work, The 100 has sought to raise public awareness about the need to reform our nation’s education system, especially in predominately African-American and low-income communities where far too many of the schools are failing our children. We are working to ensure that every child, no matter their zip code, has access to high-performing schools.
How we get there is the real question. One answer is by voting. When we go to the polls in November, it isn’t just to elect the next president. We will have the opportunity to use our voting power to make important decisions about our children’s education. In some states, for example, voters will be asked to decide whether to turn the operational and decision-making control of failing schools in their communities over to their state governments. Others will be asked whether more charter public schools should be opened in their communities to provide families with an alternative to traditional public schools. Still others will be asked how money raised through state lotteries, property and sales taxes and state and federal allocations should be used to support education initiatives.
As voters, we are facing some tough choices. Many of our local public schools are struggling and some even failing, but is a state government takeover the answer? There has been a decades-long imbalance in the distribution of educational quality and opportunity due, in part, to how public schools are funded, but will proposed funding formula changes address those inequities and produce successful outcomes? If we allow more charter schools, will that irreversibly damage our traditional public schools or will the competition make both stronger?
What will become of the children and schools in our communities depends largely on the actions we take as voters. Elections at both the federal and local level—from the school board to the statehouse and from the assembly to the White House—are vitally important. We need to be talking about education in our households and at PTA meetings, in our barber shops and coffeehouses and in our workplaces and houses of worship.
But transformation doesn’t come by talk alone. We also must take decisive action. We can start by increasing our knowledge of the issues, committing to exercise our right to vote, encouraging others in our communities to do the same and then casting ballots for candidates for whom education and the academic success of our children are top priorities.
The choice and the vote is ours.
Brian L. Pauling is national president and CEO of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.