A battle that has waged since the civil rights movement of the 1960s has reared its head once more after new voter suppression laws were enacted across the South earlier this year. New changes to voting laws in Texas, Georgia, Florida and Virginia substantially disenfranchise Black voters, leading Black founders to build tools that empower policymakers to educate the next generation of citizens.
“What’s happening has transformed the way we think about our mission and preparing young people to engage meaningfully in civic life,” Beverly Leon, CEO and founder of Local Civics, a platform that helps students become more civically engaged, told The Plug. “We’re helping educators navigate and make sense of all these huge shifts in our country but also in the face of crisis with the pandemic.”
In addition to explaining radical political shifts, Local Civics’ curricula and programming is being integrated at the school district level as mandates change in the face of unprecedented political upheaval.
“We’re seeing a lot of laws and policies in tandem across states and municipalities also introducing civics education requirements. Not only is there demand inside individual schools in leadership teams and among principals, superintendents, there’s also changes to the mandates that state educational bodies have to deliver,” Leon said.
Local Civics anticipates working with 4,500 students across hundreds of schools by the end of this year, an increase from 3,000 students last year. The technology for the platform is integrated with district requirements, depending on where the school is located and allows students and teachers to have a profile that tracks their progress while providing opportunities for students to meet state requirements through their app.
While heightened political engagement and changing requirements has meant an increase in business for the company, shrinking K-12 budgets will be a challenge to further implementing Local Civics’ program aimed at middle and high school students.
The cost of the tool varies by the size of a school district or the number of users per organization, but Leon says the average cost per student is about the cost of a textbook, at $4 a month, per student.
Since it was founded in 2018, Local Civics has measured its impact by measuring how likely participating students are to being politically engaged. After using the platform, more than 50 percent of students said they were more likely to vote in the future, 60 percent reported they were more likely to write or speak to a public official about an issue that is of concern to them and 25 percent of students said they were more likely to run for public office in the future, according to Leon.
Aside from enabling younger citizens, Black tech policy founders are providing tools that aid policy professionals.
“We prioritize trust,” Damola Ogundipe, CEO of Civic Eagle, a communications and information software company for policymakers, previously told The Plug. “We have to make sure that we start off with sharing what qualifies us to be in this space. Every demo, every enterprise conversation starts off with, we know what we’re doing, we know what we’re talking about.”
Several organizations and advocacy groups have benefited from Civic Eagle’s technology tracking software. Fair Fight, an advocacy group, reduced 75 percent of their legislation review time using Civic Eagle’s legislation tracking tool, Enview. Policy professionals also use the tags feature of Enview to categorize legislation by importance and policy.
“When the pandemic hit, we paused going after certain customer segments because we knew they were price sensitive, especially if they were membership-based,” Ogundipe said. “One thing we did was look at the customer segments hit hard with the pandemic and change how we are approaching them because of their price sensitivity. The second thing we did was because everybody was going into a remote-first world, we changed our marketing.”
Open States, a platform that makes it easy to find legislative data was acquired by Civic Eagle earlier this year and offers community-focused software that tracks legislation and locates policymakers. The increased support from Open States allows Civic Eagle to build around complex state legislative data. The growing team and future investment in civic data will provide more precise data in the policy field.
As legislation moves faster, Civic Eagle theorizes that fast digital tools are a necessity for policy work in 2022 and beyond. AI tools monitoring legislation as it goes through the committee saves hours over manual checking. Information between policy staff, lawmakers and other associates can have one all-access space.
Black organizations are quickly educating future policy leaders to provide accurate policy-making and utilizing AI to track legislation that affects Black people's votes. The U.S. can expect to see more diversity among its leaders and technology to justly represent the nation in the years to come.