EXCLUSIVE – A Democrat in the Georgia General Assembly who angered her party by supporting a recent school choice bill says fellow progressives are hypocritically abandoning some of the state’s most vulnerable people.
“Why is no one fighting for young Black minds? Why isn’t that one of the things that we’re fighting for?” State Rep. Mesha Mainor said, adding, “I actually say you’re a hypocrite. That’s what I tell them directly. You are being a hypocrite. There are state lawmakers right now where their children are in schools that they’re not even zoned for… They’re lying about their address, state lawmakers, but they won’t vote for this bill.”
Mainor’s deep-blue 56th House district stretches from southwest Atlanta up into the Midtown area and includes schools in dire need of improvement. Asked why she supported the school choice bill that ultimately didn’t pass, she responded she prefers the term “parent choice.”
“I support parent choice because some parents have children in schools where their needs are not being met,” she told Fox News Digital. “In my district in particular, we have schools with 3% reading proficiency, 3% have obtained math proficiency by the eighth grade. And so to say that this is just how it is and that the kid needs to just suffer these consequences, I don’t agree with that. And I don’t think that all parents agree with that either.”
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School choice has been a subject of intense debate for years, with teachers union-backed Democrats often fiercely opposing such measures as siphoning funding from public schools. Proponents say parents and children deserve opportunities for the best education and shouldn’t be punished for living in poorly performing districts.
School choice advocates also support expansion of charter schools, which have grown greatly in Georgia in recent years and many of which count minority students as a majority of their enrollments. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are independently run and include students who aren’t in the immediate area; teachers unions often oppose them as well since their teachers generally aren’t unionized.
“We should be voting at times just for our district and at times for the entire state of Georgia,” Mainor said.
The bill that would have expanded opportunities for students who attend Georgia’s lowest-rated schools was surprisingly shot down last month due to opposition from some rural Republicans.
Georgia Senate Bill 233 would have created $6,500-vouchers for students at schools performing in the bottom-25 percent in the state, to help pay for private school tuition and homeschooling expenses if they were inclined. Gov. Brian Kemp, R., pushed for it, and it appeared to have the votes to pass under the Republican-controlled Golden Dome, until 16 House Republicans voted it down.
It’s not dead yet, as it could still be brought for a vote at a later time. Any political battles in Georgia now attract outsized attention, given the state’s battleground status in presidential elections.
Opponents of the bill said the vouchers would hurt local public school systems needing additional funding, particularly those in poorer communities. The state planned to deduct public schools’ funding for each student that takes their education dollars elsewhere.
The move was “so unexpected… that Democrats broke decorum and cheered its failure from the chamber’s floor,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Mainor was the only Democrat who voted for it, and her fellow party members let her hear about it. A Democrat in the State Senate, Josh McLaurin, offered $1,000 to anyone who would primary her. State Rep. Michelle Au, D., linked to an AJC article about Mainor facing a primary challenge and wrote, “This is about floridly whipping votes in favor of a harmful bill we took a CAUCUS POSITION AGAINST.”
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McLaurin represents Sandy Springs, an affluent city known for its array of corporate headquarters in north Fulton County. Mainor retorted that he doesn’t have children, represents a district with thriving schools and has “no idea of what it means to live in a poverty-stricken community with no resources, with no hope.”
“To me, it’s ludicrous,” she said. “I think my fellow Democrats – and not all of them, I hate to say that because it’s not all of them – some of my colleagues will march in the streets for abortion rights. I’m pro-choice. They were crying on the floor for transgender rights. They were very outspoken about anti-Semitism. My problem is, why is no one fighting for young Black minds?… And so to say that all these other issues are important, but a child living in poverty that’s of color is at the bottom of your totem pole of priorities, that’s a problem with the value system if you ask me.”
“I can only assume it’s because poor Black children are not their priority,” she added. “Let’s put it like that. Until the Democratic Party wants to put poor Black children as a priority, then State Representative Mesha Mainor will continue to vote against them when it comes to these educational needs.”
Fox News Digital reached out to McLaurin for comment.
She also said it was “absolutely the truth” that Democrats are afraid of running afoul of powerful teachers unions; the Georgia Federation of Teachers has made removing Mainor from office a pet project.
“Teachers don’t necessarily agree with what the teachers union supports, because guess what? Teachers have children in failing schools. Teachers have children that have special needs that benefit from these services. So I think the teachers union is actually out of touch with their own constituency,” Mainor said.
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Her constituents, she says, don’t care if she votes on a straight party line, but instead thank her for keeping their needs in mind. Born and raised in Atlanta, Mainor said her mother used someone else’s address, so her daughter could attend one of the better public high schools in the city.
She also disagreed with the notion that more money needs to be put into public schools, but instead there needed to be more responsible fiscal governance from local boards.
“I don’t think throwing money at a system that’s not working is the answer. I think going in and looking at how the money is spent is what needs to be done first,” she said.
Axios reported Mainor has voted with Republicans on other major issues since she took office in 2021, including a ban on localities lowering police budgets and a controversial oversight board for prosecutors.
A physical therapist who is also pursuing a doctorate in business administration, Mainor said her Christian faith helped guide her to run for office, pointing in part to Priscilla Shirer’s book, “Discerning the Voice of God.” She is a single mother with two children, one of whom is about to head to college.
“I’m not a part of anybody’s system. I’m not part of anybody’s ‘in’ crowd,” she said. “God said to run, and so we’re going to run. And I won… The moment I hear I need to get out, I will get out.”
The Georgia State Department of Education recently identified 175 low-performing schools in need of additional support, with issues like poor graduation rates and falling behind on key skills. All of them are Title 1-schools, meaning at least 40% of the student body comes from low-income families, GPB reported.
Fox News’ Landon Mion contributed to this report.