For a long time, national organizations that claim to advocate on behalf of black Americans have actually not represented their views very well on key topics, and that rift became public again recently in controversies about charter schools.
Former Black Lives Matter St. Paul leader Rashad Turner recently quit his position over BLM national’s opposition to charter schools. Charters are public schools that boards of local citizens can apply to open and run under state oversight, and that any child can attend.
“Our public education system has people who are sometimes literally dying for the lack of educational opportunity. And when I think of charter schools in my community here in St. Paul and their benefit to students of color — low-income students — to call for a moratorium or an end to charter schools just lets me know that something funny is going on,” Turner told The74, a progressive education-focused website.
Turner also criticized the NAACP’s similar, long-held opposition to charters, which aligns with labor unions rather than black Americans. A plurality of African-Americans support charter schools, with 46 percent for and 29 percent against in a recent nationwide poll. In a 2015 poll conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options in Alabama, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Tennessee, majorities of black Americans supported charters, typically by approximately two-thirds.
Meanwhile, a group of 160 African-American community leaders sent NAACP a letter detailing their own objections to its charter-school opposition on behalf of “700,000 black families choosing to send their children to charter public schools, and the tens of thousands more who are still on waiting lists.” In October the NAACP board will meet to consider a resolution that calls for banning more charters from opening, which prompted the group letter in opposition.
“For many urban Black families, charter schools are making it possible to do what affluent families have long been able to do: rescue their children from failing schools,” the letter says. “The NAACP should not support efforts to take that option away from low-income and working-class Black families. A blanket moratorium on charter schools would limit Black students’ access to some of the best schools in America and deny Black parents the opportunity to make decisions about what’s best for their children.”
A similar coalition of black leaders in Florida has spent years going toe-to-toe with labor unions that keep suing to stop the nation’s largest state program that allows private donations to fund K-12 scholarships for poor children. The recipients of these tax-credit scholarships are predominantly minority students, and many of their parents are labor union members themselves. Nevertheless, the state teachers union keeps renewing lawsuits against the program despite a steady string of court decisions against them.
“While they’re fighting the old fight of integration versus segregation, our children are falling through the cracks. And in this issue, I believe they’re on the wrong side,” said the Rev. Manuel Sykes, a former president of the NAACP branch in St. Petersburg, of the NAACP’s opposition to school choice. “So at this point, we’re out here to advocate for and inform our African-American community that this (school choice) is something they need to support. Because while everyone is fighting on the top levels, it’s our children that’s at stake.”
The group letter to the NAACP cites a Stanford University study showing that black students who attended charter schools exhibited the equivalent of 14 days’ more learning in both reading and math per year compared to black peers in traditional public schools. Poor black students’ learning gains in charter schools were even more dramatic, at the equivalent of 29 more days’ learning in reading and 36 extra in math.
Turner said he doesn’t know why Black Lives Matter opposes school-choice programs that help black children access higher-quality schools, but he has a few theories.
If you took some time to look beneath the surface, you’d see that the Black Lives Matter movement has been co-opted. It’s been hijacked by others. Now it’s all about money. Again, to think that Black Lives Matter Minneapolis could be out protesting with the teachers union, who spent one whole year demonizing black students — to think that you could get out there and protest with them — to me that just seems funny. And I don’t want to make assumptions, but something funny is going on.
The Black Lives Matter movement in the public eye has had that appearance that ‘Hey, you’re fighting for black bodies to stop being killed by police.’ How the heck that leads to calling for a moratorium on new charter schools, I don’t have a clue.