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Black Education Entrepreneurs — and Parents — Are Pushing the Boundaries of School Choice

Allen: ESAs, charters, homeschooling — the country should be ready to embrace even more changes pioneered by those best positioned to know what works.

This is photo of an African American mom and dad homeschooling their son and daughter.

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Education entrepreneurship is having a moment.

After decades of frustration with traditional schools, after a pandemic that magnified the inadequacies and inequities of public education, and now with the rapid expansion of school choice programs in multiple states, entrepreneurs are remaking public education with a dizzying array of innovative models. These are ever more customized to the students they serve, ever more responsive to families who want something different and, thanks to school choice, easier than ever to sustain and scale.

Black education entrepreneurs are in the thick of this phenomenon.

The essence of school choice is freedom — the freedom for parents to choose, for teachers to innovate and for students to thrive in environments that best suit their individual needs. Black school founders are not just participating in this movement; they are at the forefront, championing the creation of educational spaces that not only meet academic standards, but nurture cultural identity, community cohesion and holistic development.

Black-founded schools are diverse in terms of curriculum, pedagogy and school type. They include incredible charter schools like Noble Minds Institute in New Orleans, Pasadena Rosebud Academy in California and Legends Charter School outside Washington D.C.; highly regarded private schools like Discovery Lane in Maryland and Crossover Prep Academy in Oklahoma; and innovative microschools like The Lab School and Eminence Academy in Memphis. There are STEM-focused schools like Anderson Academy of Math & Science in Las Vegas; STEM-based and African-centered schools like The XyayX Institute in Brooklyn; and even more eclectic schools like Florida’s Kind Academy, which fuses project- and nature-based learning with flexible scheduling.

However, the journey of Black school founders is not devoid of challenges. They often grapple with hurdles like limited access to funding, bureaucratic red tape and the daunting task of dispelling long-held stereotypes. Yet, their resilience is as evident as their success. Through innovative funding models, community partnerships and relentless advocacy, these educators are not just overcoming barriers; they are dismantling them.

In 2023, a movement of parents and advocates across the country continued to extend school choice — and not just as a concept, but as a reality for parents who are struggling with options as well as opportunity. State leaders expanded programs that allowed more families to select which learning institution is right for their child, and educators on the ground stepped up to increase available options.

Public charter schools and homeschooling expanded across the country in 2023, as did online classes. This development marked a dramatic change for underprivileged students without good local options or transportation, giving them access — using nothing but the internet — to the greatest educational minds in the country.

And then there are ESAs, Education Savings Accounts, which exploded in 2023 thanks, in large part, to the efforts of Black women in states like Arizona — the first state to make ESAs available to all students. There, groups like Black Mothers’ Forum work to champion their children’s rights and to bring awareness to concerns unique to the underprivileged community and to break cycles of generational poverty.

The school-to-prison pipeline is real, and Black and Brown students are suspended and expelled from school at two to three times the rate of their white peers due to zero-tolerance policies. School choice is a way out. Using ESAs, the Black Mothers’ Forum is working at the intersection of these societal issues. and has established a chain of microschools all around Arizona. They hope to take the same success to Texas.

ESAs differ from vouchers, placing all of a student’s educational funding into a private account that parents can draw on to pay for private school tuition, or to fund a specialized education to address special needs. ESAs can help cover the cost of tutoring, books, technology — whatever families, who are best positioned to know their communities’ and children’s struggles, decide. ESAs put them in charge.

Black education entrepreneurs not only care about children’s outcomes, but they have seen, firsthand, what educational choice means for their communities — and they know how to make the necessary changes. Their models are innovative, they’re creative, they’re aggressive and, most of all, they are successful.

Education reformers, policymakers and entrepreneurs can only expect more in 2024. The rapid expansion of school choice has created fertile ground for more innovation in education. The country should be ready to embrace changes pioneered by those best positioned to know what works — most importantly, parents.

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