Mesha Mainor is a lawmaker in the Georgia House who represents a heavily Democratic Atlanta district in which some schools have 3 percent proficiency rates, and many children are utterly innumerate. Disgusted by the inferior performance of public schools, Rep. Mainor gave her support to the growing movement for school choice.
“When I decided to stand up on behalf of disadvantaged children in support of school choice, my Democrat colleagues didn’t stand by me,” Rep. Mainor said. “They crucified me.”
In her words, she was “voting yes for parents and yes for children, not failing schools.” After her rough treatment, Mainor switched parties and registered as a Republican.
“There is no good reason for officeholders to treat school choice as a partisan issue,” said Rick Boucher, former Democratic congressman from Virginia and Protect The 1st Senior Policy Advisor. “A RealClear Opinion Research poll found that support for school choice among Democrats rose from 59 percent to 68 percent between 2020 and 2022. In fact, support for school choice among Democrats exceeds that of independents by one point.
“Millions of parents see school choice as a lifeline out of poverty,” Boucher said. “The commitment of Democrats to equality, opportunity, and pluralism should make school choice our issue.”
The resignation of Rep. Mainor from the Democratic party is just the latest sign that school choice has hardened into a partisan dividing line. Democratic supporters of school choice were initially elated when governors of two major blue states – Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, and Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania – endorsed modest school choice programs in their states.
But this Democratic school choice moment did not last.
After the ultra-powerful teacher’s union went to work on the governors, both soon backtracked on the bold stands they had taken while running for office. Gov. Pritzker acquiesced to the elimination of a state tax credit for private donations that sent 9,600 low-income students to quality private schools. Now the governor is talking about ways to “wind down” the program as these children return to subpar public schools.
Gov. Shapiro boldly declared he stood by school choice because “every child of God” deserves a “quality education.” Yet Gov. Shapiro similarly backed down from his support for a $100 million scholarship plan for children trapped in the state’s lowest-performing public schools. Now these children of God will be returned to schools with abysmal track records.
“It is easy to understand what Govs. Pritzker and Shapiro were seeing on the stump,” Boucher said. “School choice is immensely popular with Democrats, especially among disadvantaged and minority communities. Given our party’s legacy of support for families and children, we should show that in our party, children from struggling families come first.”