Whether you support your state’s reopening plans or not, the reality is families locked out of learning for nearly a year are getting fed up.

If you have a 6-year-old, like me, then you know online school is a straight-up joke. My husband and I were forced to homeschool, and actually, it has been better for her. My husband gets her doing arts and learning out in nature (she didn’t get that in regular school). And, once a week his mother, a retired teacher, spends time with her and helps us stay on top of formal academics.

But we also pay for help. Because my husband and I both have jobs, we have to hire someone to watch her for a couple of hours every day. Before the pandemic started we were already paying for Kumon in reading and math. Now we have added a reading coach who works with her every Saturday morning. 

I think all of this support has come to about $6,000—and we’re not even through the school year. 

Now think about all the families who don’t have that kind of money in their budgets, and how those families are getting left behind. I know these families because I was them. 

Look, I’m not in the business of trying to force teachers to return to in-person school. I get that teachers and other staff who are immunocompromised can’t risk a return to school. I know that many families will not take the chance with their children, even if their school’s doors opened tomorrow.

For anyone who has eyes and ears, you should know by now the conversation is bigger than reopening. Black kids, specifically, are being used in the debate to reopen schools—weighing the health risk against the learning loss. But as journalist Nikole Hannah Jones noted in a recent tweet, “many of these same entities on BOTH sides were not advocating for Black kids before & were quite content to sustain the unequal systems that the pandemic exacerbated.”

If this isn’t the truth, I don’t know what is. 

If public education as we have known it can’t meet our current challenges, then let’s redistribute some of the education dollars so parents can get the support they need for their children.

Whether traditional public schools open or not, parents need money to educate their children. We have parents who need these kinds of additional supports for their children with or without a pandemic. If public education as we have known it can’t meet our current challenges, then let’s redistribute some of the education dollars so parents can get the support they need for their children.

Redistributing dollars to parents isn’t a crazy idea either. Just this year, the New Hampshire legislature introduced a bill that would establish what is being called an “education freedom account program.” According to NHPR, the bill would allow “families whose children have left their local public school to redirect state aid to the educational program of that family’s choice.” If the bill were to pass, it would potentially help families carry the costs of home or private schooling. 

Families, like mine, across the country have left their local public schools in favor of homeschooling. I think I speak for most, if not all, of us when I say we could benefit from an offsetting of cost to educate our children where traditional public schools have utterly failed.

We have a history of self-determination in education, we should learn lessons from the past as we reimagine and build for the future.

Although the teacher unions have a strong grip on some state legislatures, like mine in Maryland, I believe this is the opportune time, particularly for Black parents to organize our lives responsibly to educate our own children. We’re in the midst of gaps widening and ongoing punitive harms targeting Black children. We have a history of self-determination in education, we should learn lessons from the past as we reimagine and build for the future.

To reimagine education, we must start with the redistribution of education dollars to go directly to families to scaffold and support homeschooling or homeschooling cooperatives. 

Zakiya Sankara-Jabar is the National Director of Activism at brightbeam, the parent organization of Citizen Ed. She is the co-founder of Racial Justice NOW! and most recently served as the National Field Organizer at Dignity in Schools Campaign. Zakiya came to organizing, advocacy, and policy work organically as a parent pushing back on harmful school discipline policies that disproportionately impact Black students and their families. Zakiya's organizing and advocacy acumen has led to significant policy changes at the local and state level in the state of Ohio. Since then, Zakiya has worked in communities all across the country sharing tools, strategies, and skills with Black parents to shift education policy and practice. Zakiya has been named to the inaugural #Power50 leadership fellowship for women of color with Community Change and the Community Activist Fellowship with Wayfinder Foundation. Zakiya is a preeminent thought leader in racial and education justice and has received numerous awards. In her free time, Zakiya enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and two children.

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