By Stephen Magagnini

(WORD IN BLACK) – Despite the often life-and-death challenges posed by COVID-19, housing and the hard-hit American economy, education remains the top priority for most African American parents, according to a national poll commissioned by the Sacramento-based Fortune School of Education.

A panel discussion on the results of the February study is scheduled from 1-3 p.m. Thursday, May 6, focusing exclusively on 1,290 African American registered voters, 618 in California and 672 in key 2020 presidential election swing states — Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio.

The panelists include RaShaun Holliman, executive director of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools focusing on Black and Brown education; Dondrelle Swanson, board chair for the Alpha Community Education Initiative; Joe Shafer, president of Politics and Advocacy for New York-based Applecart Research, which conducted the poll; and Christian Entezari, project director of What Black Voters Think. The panel will be moderated by OBSERVER President and Publisher Larry Lee.

The event is free and open to the public. Register at

“I found it very striking and enlightening that there was so much support for more Black leadership in schools, having yourself reflected in who’s opening them and running them,” said Entezari. Public charter schools established by Black educators, such as Sacramento’s Fortune schools, have successfully addressed the needs expressed by Black parents in the survey conducted by Applecart.

“This survey showed the critical importance of education to Black voters in California and key 2020 presidential battleground states,” said Joe Shafer, president of politics and advocacy at Applecart. “Black voters in these geographies feel that traditional public schools often overlook the needs of Black students and that public charter schools provide critical opportunities for Black students.” 

The poll’s key findings include:

  • 52% of Black parents in both California and swing states ranked education as the issue that affects them most.
  •  Most respondents have spent significantly on education-related expenses during the pandemic. 
  • Upon hearing more information about public charter schools, support rises to 71% in CA: (+9%) and 72% in swing states (+12%) 
  • Support is high for policies aimed at Black communities, including ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and increasing Black leadership in schools.

The poll showed that 71% of Black parents in California reported having incurred unexpected out-of-pocket education expenses for at-home learning forced by COVID-19 restrictions, Entezari said. In California, 55% Black voters overall reported that jobs and economy affected them most daily compared with 52% for COVID recovery and 35% for education. But 52% of Black parents in California also said education was their greatest concern.

The panel discussion is part of the NAN Sacramento Rise Up! Virtual Conference, May 5-7. NAN, The National Action Network civil rights organization founded by Dr. Al Sharpton, advocates for social justice and equity.

The poll comes at a critical time in American history where many Americans of color have felt they are under assault, not only from police brutality and deadly force, but elected officials from ex-President Trump to state legislatures passing laws seemingly designed to limit Black voter participation.

“We developed the poll as a way to truly understand what Black voters view as the most critical issues they are facing right now,” said Margaret Fortune, a highly respected educator. She pioneered Black charters in Sacramento and has championed them nationwide in the face of repeated attempts to limit or derail charter schools.

Dr. Fortune noted that Black parents’ concerns about education were greater than those about health care and housing. “Now it’s important for our policymakers to use this data to inform the laws that provide what parents want – access to more resources including public charter schools,” she said.

Two bills in the legislature, AB 1316 and the scaled-down version, SB 593, are designed to address scandals such as the A3 charter school network whose executives Sean McManus of Australia and Jason Schrock of Long Beach pled guilty to conspiracy to steal and pocket $50 million in public funds earmarked for charter schools. They have been charged with faking and manipulating student enrollment data to get more state money, which they transferred to companies they controlled, providing students little or no actual education.

The California Charter School Association told the San Diego Union-Tribune that while the state may need legislative guardrails to prevent such charter scandals from happening again, AB 1316 “attempts to paint a broad brush on the charter public school sector by citing a single egregious case of fraud … and ignores the hard work and high ethical standards of the majority of charter public schools.” 

RaShaun Holliman, executive director of the national organization the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools, noted the fight to preserve and grow Black educational options is far from over. 

“As we continue to fight for legislation that puts children first and provides a solid path for the creation and growth of high-quality charter schools, particularly those led by Black leaders, the data included in this poll is critical to those of us on the frontlines,” he said. “This information strengthens our voice and allows us to build stronger alliances.”

Dondrell Swanson, board chair for the Alpha Community Education Initiative (ACEI) affiliated with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, said the survey “better informs elected and aspiring leaders about the issues that are important to Black voters, notably the strong interest in education among Black parents, which aligns well with the mission of ACEI and informs our legislative equity agenda. Our team looks forward to leveraging this data in conversations with legislators about educational policy improvements needed to build a more equitable and inclusive learning environment.” 

Tracie Stafford, chair of the Sacramento County Democratic Party, said Black educational leadership goes hand in hand with building a more equitable playing field in America. “We legislate decency in this country because our culture has not evolved to a place where equity is automatic,” Ms. Stafford said. “To that end, we as Black people must engage like never before. We must run, we must vote and we must win.”

Fortune School of Education is a network of nine tuition-free, K-12 public charter schools in Sacramento and San Bernardino. The schools include Hardy Brown College Prep, Fortune School, William Lee College Prep, Alan Rowe College Prep, Ephraim Williams College Prep Middle School, Hazel Mahone College Prep, Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School, Fortune Middle School, and Tecoy Porter College Prep.

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.