As an advocate for equity in public education, I joined the NAACP, and eventually became the education chair for Southwest Riverside County. I believed I was doing the right thing with the right organization, yet soon found some troubling discrepancies.
The most disturbing concern I’ve had is regarding the issue of school choice and charter schools. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why the oldest, most respected national civil rights organization would deny access to quality public education by advocating to take away charter schools from Black parents and their children. There can’t possibly be equity in a system that doesn’t respect equality for Black children, Black parents and Black families. And, after all, isn’t that the purpose of our historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)? To provide a school option for Black people created to support our modality of learning, while building in cultural proficiency?
Black student data is dismal. Why are we directing and guiding our parents away from quality public school options by supporting a moratorium on charter schools? This didn’t sit very well with me and I had to do something about it, not just complain.
I submitted to my local branch in South Riverside a resolution to overturn the NAACP National Board’s call for a moratorium on charter schools using the same process San Jose State Professor Roxanna Marachi, education chair of the San Jose branch followed to establish the current NAACP policy against charter schools. My South Riverside branch adopted our resolution, along with the branches representing San Diego and San Bernardino, three cities in California with the largest African American student populations.
Unlike San Jose’s resolution, ours was written by African American parents and grandparents who are NAACP members and acknowledges that Black students in California’s district-run public schools are failing. That’s why parents have enrolled 50,000 African American children in the state’s tuition-free, public charter schools.
We included data from the California Department of Education showing that Black students are the lowest-performing subgroup of students in California other than students with learning disabilities. The resolution highlighted the facts about laws on the books in California that ensure accountability and transparency for charter schools. We are calling for the NAACP to:
Support all educational options for African American students that produce positive results;
End its call for a moratorium on public charter schools;
Call on the California Legislature to develop and enforce robust public school accountability measures;
Support quality public education for all African American children and recognize the importance of parent choice.
I had hoped that there would be a fair and democratic process that honored the protocol for considering NAACP resolution submissions, however, I quickly discovered it wouldn’t be.
In an email obtained by LA School Report, Alice A. Huffman, president of the California Hawaii NAACP, told leaders in the three local branches that the state branch “has already taken a position of opposition and would appreciate it if you all would rescind your positions.”
Then branch officials in South Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino started getting threatening messages from California state NAACP officials that our branches were non-compliant. We’ve been subjected to a series of intimidation tactics designed to silence us. For example, I was suspended from my volunteer position as the education chair of my branch, and then quickly reinstated when I asked for the reasons for the suspension in writing. When I attended our state lobby day at the capitol, state officials assigned two members from other branches to monitor me, including following me to the bathroom.
I cannot believe the things I've encountered at the hands of state NAACP leadership, simply by requesting we take another look at the charter school and school choice issue from the perspective of what is taking place with Black students. After all, the original 2016 resolution calling for a moratorium did not address the Black student data and was supposed to support a pause to stop and then regroup, not completely shut down charter schools.
That’s what our state’s NAACP is supporting in legislation sponsored by the teachers union that is snaking its way through the California legislature to the governor’s desk. Moreover, since 2016, legislation has been passed in California to address the concerns raised by the NAACP. Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 406 into law in 2018, outlawing for-profit charter schools in California. This year, the first piece of legislation signed by newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom was SB 126 which requires charter schools to follow open meeting and conflict of interest laws that apply to all public schools.
In light of these reforms, the South Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino branches representing some of largest populations of Black students who have been under-served by the traditional public schools are simply saying let's take another look. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Since we can find no quarter with Alice Huffman, our state’s NAACP president, we, the “breakaway” branches, are sending a delegation to the NAACP National Convention in Detroit with the hope of promoting a fair, reasonable dialogue about school choice and the benefits of public charter schools for Black students, parents and families.
Several of the most prominent 2020 presidential candidates will appeal to thousands of African American voters at the NAACP 110th National Convention in Detroit. Bernie Sanders has confirmed his attendance. We want to make sure presidential candidates, like Bernie Sanders, who are looking to build their credibility with Black voters, will grapple with the question of why 700,000 Black families in America have voted with their feet to send their children to public charter schools.
Our hopes are that 2020 presidential candidates will hear our public demand for quality public education options and choice for parents and students. The NAACP is divided. We know the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are listening to teachers unions. Will they listen to Black parents too?
Christina Laster is a civil rights activist and humanitarian who serves as Director of Policy and Legislation for the
National Parents Union. She is also the founder of the Inland Empire and San Diego Parent Unions, a former statewide community organizer with the California Policy Center, and a Black parent and grandparent in Southern California. ...