By Rob Roper
Florida experienced some very close statewide elections this cycle, including its race for governor in which Republican Ron Desantis edged by Democrat Andrew Gillum. The interesting and deciding factor in that race was that an unusually large number of African American women abandoned the Democratic (and fellow African American) candidate Gillum to vote for Desantis. Why? School choice.
The Wall Street Journal did an analysis of the race titled, “‘School Choice Moms’ Tipped the Governor’s Florida Race.” According to the Journal, Desantis won 18% of the black, female vote, which is considerably more than single digit level most Republicans usually get from African Americans. Not insignificantly, Desantis also won an impressive (for a Republican) 44 percent of the Latino vote, also credited in part to his support for school choice.
In Florida, more than 100,000 low-income students, most of whom are minorities, participate in the Step Up For Students program, which grants tax-credit funded scholarships that allow these kids to attend private schools. Apparently, the moms of these 100,000 were enough voters to tip a race decided by around 40,000.
For many minority communities, school choice is seen as “the civil rights issue of our time,” and in this particular case, a civil rights imperative even more important than electing Florida’s first African American governor.
There have been many news headlines in Vermont over the past several months lamenting the lack of diversity in our state. Yet, here we have the oldest, and I would argue, the most comprehensive and dynamic school choice system in the country.
Maybe it’s time to shout that fact from the rooftops and let the country know of our role in “the civil rights issue of our time.” Maybe even expand the system that we have now. If we want more African Americans to see Vermont as a place that is welcoming, let’s lead on an issue they clearly care deeply about.