Even as many immigrant rights groups are reeling from the results of the national election, San Franciscans turned out at the polls to deliver a local victory for immigrant parent voting rights. Proposition N, a measure to a allow non-citizens with children in San Francisco schools to vote for school board, won with 52.6% of the vote.

This was the third time non-citizen voting was placed on the San Francisco ballot and the first time it passed. San Francisco is now the first California city and the eighth U.S. city (after Chicago and six cities in Maryland) to legalize non-citizen voting. Close to one-third of San Francisco’s 60,000 public school children have a parent who is an immigrant, most of whom are not citizens.

The Mission Economic Development Association (MEDA) pushed for the measure and organized canvassing efforts. MEDA and other supporters of Proposition N worked closely with those of Proposition F, a measure to lower the voting age to 16 in local elections. Because both measures aimed to increase overall civic participation, the campaigns were able to increase their reach by working together. The coordinated effort was “harmonious,” according to Celi Tamayo, the campaign manager for Proposition F. “There were a lot of similar elected officials and community organizers supporting both issues and both were encouraging better education for young people,” said Tamayo.

Innovate Public Schools got involved in the campaign for Proposition N when our group of Mission neighborhood parent leaders heard about the proposal. “I’m glad that this proposal was approved because parents will now have a voice and vote to elect the people on our district’s school board,” said Teresa Molina, an Innovate parent leader. “We are going to feel more motivated to research the candidates and check if they really should be in the district, representing our children. They have never taken into account the voice of migrant parents, so it’s an exciting time.”

The parents were primarily motivated by the desire for all parents to have equitable representation and fair input and to have a district that is more responsive to their needs and concerned with academic achievement for all students. On September 13, the SFUSD school board met to vote on whether to pass a resolution formally supporting the measure. A group of parents from MEDA and Innovate attended the meeting. After giving testimony explaining how this would benefit their community, they were successful in getting the school board to endorse Prop N.

Leading up to the November election, parent volunteers and their children went door to door in the Mission neighborhood to tell people about propositions N and F. “The parents involved invigorated the campaign,” said Gabriel Medina, Policy Manager at MEDA, of the parent leaders who went door to door. “It made a difference to have their support,” he said.

On election night, campaigners gathered at MEDA headquarters. Amidst upbeat live Latin music and Peruvian food, they watched the election results pour in. Although the federal results dampened spirits, the group was able to celebrate the amazing efforts of local high schoolers, families and campaign volunteers and staff.

Proposition F did not pass, but the campaign was successful in garnering increased support for youth voting. After polling at only 37% “Yes” in March of 2016, it ultimately achieved 47% “Yes.” The 10 point increase in support shows that the efforts of the youth and other campaigners paid off. “Youth leaders will continue to be involved in other youth voice movements in the city,” said Tamayo. “They will participate, express themselves and organize.”

What does this mean for parent engagement?

With the passage of Prop N, we believe parents will be more engaged in local school district issues, knowing they have a tangible impact and their vote counts. On October 5, 2016, Innovate co-hosted a school board candidates forum geared toward a parent audience. There was a strong turnout of about 170 people, but we expect turnout at future events will increase significantly thanks to the passage of this measure.

“As an organization that works closely with immigrant families, we are excited by the success of Prop N,” said Matt Hammer, Innovate Public Schools founder and CEO. “This victory sends a clear signal to the immigrant community about San Francisco’s openness to including more people in the democratic process.”

As a 501(c)(3), Innovate Public Schools cannot support or oppose candidates for public office during an election, but we can support local ballot measures and propositions, to the extent allowed by law.

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Innovate Public Schools

We are a nonprofit organization focused on ensuring that all students in California, including low-income students and students of color, receive an excellent education.

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