Topics: Barack Obama

Black Americans lead charge for school choice

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Education,Op-Eds,Barack Obama,Eric Holder,NAACP,Justice Department

With the school year under way, many parents are struggling with the realization that some of our nation’s public schools cannot deliver an adequate education. This is especially true of schools in poor and minority communities.

These parents should ask themselves: Why are so many black community leaders committed to a status quo that's failing America’s students?

President Obama's administration has repeatedly tried to block alternatives to that status quo, especially school-choice programs that give disadvantaged students money to leave failing schools for private ones.

The administration's budget blueprint would eliminate funding for the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. And the Justice Department recently filed suit against Louisiana to shut down a similar program for low-income students at the state's worst public schools.

Because these programs largely benefit poor, minority students — 90 percent of the recipients are black — the Justice Department argues that civil rights law renders the scholarships illegal. The administration claims that school choice "impedes the desegregation process."

It's not just this administration working to end these programs. Black establishment politicians and organizations — from the NAACP to the Congressional Black Caucus to Jesse Jackson — are turning their backs on black and other minority students they purport to defend.

Black voters are among the strongest supporters of school choice. They're more likely than whites to favor programs like vouchers, tax credits, and charters that allow families to seek better schools.

Already, blacks are setting aside partisan favoritism to strengthen school choice.

Many are rallying behind choice proponents like New Jersey's Chris Christie, who this summer received a major endorsement from one of his state's most prominent black leaders, Bishop Reginald Jackson.

They're taking to the streets in Harlem to protest the NAACP's involvement in a lawsuit that would block charter schools.

And they're reaching across the political aisle to preserve D.C.'s voucher program. Former D.C. council member Kevin Chavous, who is leading the pro-voucher fight, tells black voters that House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, is their "biggest champion in Congress."

Defenders of the status quo liken school-choice programs to re-segregation. But how is a black student leaving a failing majority-black institution for a successful school anything but an improvement?

Alternatives to public schools will be available only if parents choose them. And they do. In Louisiana, 12,000 students applied for only 8,000 private school scholarships.

The D.C. voucher program receives four applications for every scholarship it can give. Nearly half of all states have voucher or tax-credit programs, and more than 2 million students attend charter schools.

Too many minority students are trapped in under-resourced and under-performing public schools. Their test scores lag behind their white counterparts. Black students graduate at a rate below other groups. And too many leave high school under-prepared for college.

By contrast, students in school-choice programs are making steady gains. Researchers at Stanford University found that charter school students in Louisiana gain an additional two months of learning in reading and three months in math, compared with public school students. Students who participate in D.C.'s scholarship program have a graduation rate of 91 percent.

Affluent parents have always had the ability to choose a school by moving to a different neighborhood or paying private-school tuition. School-choice programs provide options for low-income families without such resources.

No one should begrudge a parent trying to give his or her child the best education possible. Black parents must insist that their children have a better claim on Washington’s attention than apologists for a failing status quo.

Leah Durant is the founder of the Black American Leadership Alliance and a former trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice specializing in immigration and minority rights issues.
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