Why Atlanta Must Show Up at the Polls for the Runoff Elections

The suspense surrounding who will lead the city of Atlanta will soon come to an end. On Nov. 30, we’ll head to the polls again to elect our mayor, city council and most important, the school board in runoff elections. So much is at stake as we’re selecting the next group of decision makers for Atlanta’s Board of Education (ABOE) in District 2 and seat 7. 

Look, voter fatigue is real, but local elections are just as important as presidential elections, especially with the ongoing impact of COVID-19. Arguably, they are even more significant because the people elected are making decisions about your typical everyday operations like getting clean water to your home, ensuring your trash is collected, and in the case of children, the overall quality of schools and public education. In a city of 500,000 people, where school board seats have been won with less than 600 votes, we need every voter showing up, informed, and encouraging everyone they know to finish the ballot.

Whether you’re the most civically engaged person or growing in your role of motivating your networks to vote in every election, not encouraging your neighbors and friends to vote comes with consequences. Two things that come to mind are A.) The continued achievement gap between minorities and disadvantaged students versus their white counterparts and B.) Ongoing income immobility. Children having access, or not having access, to education determines their future outcomes.  

Here are a few points to help remind your neighbors and friends that school board seats are on the ballot:

The recovery efforts for students’ academic and social emotional learning will be directed by the newly elected Atlanta Board of Education (ABOE).

The pandemic came with a series of challenges that include enrollment declines, lack of access to technology, grade-level proficiency gaps in mathematics and ELA for third and eighth-grade students, and a slew of socio-emotional challenges. We need to build upon the supportive momentum we had for our children and teachers when the pandemic hit in March 2020.

The Atlanta Board of Education recently approved a $1.4 billion budget for the 2021-2022 school year for APS.

The board approved the budget with the goal to address the pandemic’s impact on student learning.The spending plan includes enhancements in staff compensation, programming, technology and resources to create better schools. Comparatively, the ABOE budget overshadows the city council’s budget of approximately $710 million. We must vote in order to guarantee those resources are used in the best way possible to take care of our kids.

Atlanta Public Schools is more than 70 percent Black and the proficiency gap between Black students and students of color compared to white students highlights disparities tied to race.

On Oct. 4, the ABOE voted (8-1) on a policy setting goals and guardrails as the framework for the 2020-2025 strategic plan. This new policy will be the first time, at least in the last 20 years, that the school district has committed to holding themselves accountable  for monitoring students’ ability to read, write, and do math with grade level proficiency. Electing leaders that reflect the make-up of the district and that understand the range of lived experiences across all of APS’ student population can be the difference between bold leadership and action to keep students’ needs first or passive, status quo policies that have allowed the current disparities to prevail for far too long.

How we treat our children is a direct reflection of who we are as a city, and we are failing. We can’t tip-toe around the issues; now is the time to reimagine education. We must elect a board that is representative of the children they serve. And beyond representation, we need people willing to make hard decisions and do the hard work. 

Questions we have to ask ourselves: will this new board perpetuate systems and actions that have led to some of the largest academic and opportunity gaps in our country, or will they  stand against the status quo and create positive disruption to correct the landscape for Atlanta children? The public education system for our children was never designed for Black and Brown children to succeed in the first place..

Early voting for the runoff elections is Nov. 17-24 and the last day to vote is Nov. 30. Visit www.letsvoteatl.org to find your polling location now through election day!