2020

Opinion: Kamala Harris’s California truancy policies hurt vulnerable families

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Nate Morris is the senior editor of the Black Wall Street Times and a community advocate in Tulsa, OK.  The views expressed in his commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of The Black Wall Street Times.

Early on the morning of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) sent a tweet, making it official: She’s running for president.

A week ago, I was excited at the very notion of a President Harris.  Knowing, however, that her announcement was imminent, I chose to do some brief research of her work in California – and it gave me pause.

Nearly a decade ago, as his time in office was drawing to a close, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a truancy policy which penalized parents with the possibility of a $2000 fine or up to a year of imprisonment if their child was chronically truant to school.

One of the law’s biggest advocates as it moved through the California legislature? Kamala Harris.

According to a 2011 article by the organization Color Lines, Harris praised the effort in her inaugural address as she was sworn in as California’s Attorney General:

We know chronic truancy leads to dropping out, which dramatically increases the odds that a young person will become either a perpetrator or a victim of crime. Folks, it is time to get serious about the problem of chronic truancy in California. Last year we had 600,000 truant students in our elementary schools alone, which roughly matches the number of inmates in our state prisons. Is it a coincidence? Of course not.

And as unacceptable as this problem is — I know we can fix it. In San Francisco, we threatened the parents of truants with prosecution, and truancy dropped 32 percent. So, we are putting parents on notice. If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law.

This work to combat truancy is part of the broader oath that I swore today and the oath upheld every day by the men and women of the the Attorney General’s office.

As she stepped into the role of the state’s top lawmaker, Harris’s support of a law which would disproportionately affect parents and families in poor communities and communities of color was decidedly front and center.

Recently, in Tulsa, many concerned citizens (including members of this paper) worked to stop a similar truancy policy which seemed destined for approval.  Launching a campaign rooted in the notion of universal justice and equality is powerful, but it must be backed with policies that protect our most vulnerable populations rather than punish them.

After learning about Harris’s decision to push forward this and other concerning policies during her work in California, support of her candidacy without investigation seemed both disingenuous and hypocritical.

I will be the first to admit that my admiration for Senator Harris is undeniable. She has been a powerful, barrier-breaking force in the Senate since she arrived just two years ago, and her promise of a campaign and presidency focused on a better future for every American is inspiring.

But as we barrel toward this next election and the field of Democratic challengers seeking to unseat our racist, incompetent and likely criminal president grows daily, I am reminded of the opportunity we, the people, have to make a choice.

This doesn’t mean that Senator Harris will not ultimately be the best choice. It’s simply a call for us to do our due diligence so that we may choose wisely.


20621103_10156585096989129_7583201440508056449_nNate Morris is the senior editor of the Black Wall Street Times.  Nate was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and moved to Tulsa in 2012 after graduating from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.  He received his Master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2015.  Nate is a Teach for America alumnus and has worked in schools throughout the Tulsa area.

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Categories: 2020, Opinion