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Black Charter Leaders to NAACP: Hands Off Our Schools

By Naomi Nix | September 21, 2016

Photo: Getty Images
A coalition of more than 160 black education leaders on Wednesday called for the NAACP’s national board to reconsider a proposed resolution that calls for a moratorium on charter school growth across the country.
The coalition asked to meet with the civil rights group about the resolution before NAACP board members formally vote in mid-October.
Organized by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the coalition argues in a publicly released letter that halting charter school growth would limit black students to their local schools, which often struggle in the poor neighborhoods where charters excel.
“A substantial number of Black parents want to have the option of enrolling their children in high-quality charter schools,” the letter says. “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 NAACP should not support efforts to take that option away from low-income and working-class Black families.”
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The letter’s signatories include Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund; Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of Brown v. Board of Education plaintiff Oliver Brown; and Geoffrey Canada, the president of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Many charter school leaders also signed the letter.
Wednesday’s letter also launched a “ChartersWork” campaign, continuing until the end of the year, which will use the media to “elevate Black voices and stakeholders from the civil rights communities” on behalf of charters. BAEO President Jacqueline Cooper said in an interview the organization will create a new website that will allow thousands of families to publicly show their support for charter schools. 
“We need to get the word out that the black community wants charter schools,” she said. “That’s really what the campaign is going to be about.”
In July, NAACP convention delegates, who had previously expressed concerns about charters, passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on their “rapid proliferation.” To become formal policy for the organization, the resolution must be ratified by the national board, which is scheduled to meet Oct. 13–15 in Cincinnati.
In its letter, the coalition asks to meet with the NAACP before the board’s gathering to “discuss the very serious implications the proposed resolution will have for Black families who want and deserve high-quality educational options for their children.” Cooper said Wednesday her organization had not yet gotten a response from the NAACP. 
A representative from the NAACP’s headquarters did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Board member Amos Brown said he is open to meeting with representatives from the coalition but he is unlikely to change his opinion that there needs to be a moratorium on charter schools. 

“I’m pretty adamant about my position,” he said.  “If they want to meet, that would be fine with me.” 

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In the resolution, delegates contended that charters use overly punitive discipline methods, exacerbate segregation, and take resources away from public schools. The resolution also cites a study arguing that charter school expansion in low-income communities mirrors the predatory lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis.
But the coalition said the resolution relies on “cherry-picked and debunked claims” about charter schools.
“The notion of dedicated charter school founders and educators acting like predatory subprime mortgage lenders — a comparison the resolution explicitly makes — is a far cry from the truth,” they wrote.
In recent weeks, the news of the NAACP’s proposed moratorium has revealed divisions among civil rights groups and minority education leaders over the role charter schools should play in serving children of color. That conversation was compounded when the first major education platform released by the Movement for Black Lives also included a moratorium on charter schools.
Hiram Rivera, one of the authors of the Movement for Black Lives education platform, said in an interview earlier this month that while he recognizes there are good charter schools, the country should address the underlying reasons black families want better options.
“We do not see charter school parents or charter school students as the enemy,” he said. “What we see are desperate black families whose communities have been underresourced … [They] are desperate to find schools that can provide a quality education.”
But the debate among minorities over charter schools dates to their inception in the 1990s; the NAACP was divided about whether supporting charters undermined their long-held demand for a better and fairer public education for all kids.
“We all know there is no perfect system — traditional, charter, or private schools. We have seen issues arise in all sectors,” Lomax said in a statement. “But as the letter explains, a blanket moratorium on charter schools would limit students’ access to some of the best schools and deny parents the opportunity to make decisions about what’s best for their children.”
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