There's Room in the NAACP to Talk About the Importance of School Choice for Black Parents

Aug 9, 2019 12:00:00 AM


I was recently the subject of a hit piece in the Huffington Post, which tried to connect me to the Koch brothers because, as a volunteer in my local NAACP branch in a low-income community in Southwest Riverside California, I helped pass a resolution to end the NAACP’s call for a charter school moratorium

It’s funny—I had to look up the Koch brothers. When the reporter called me and told me that officials from my state's NAACP were accusing me of taking money, I heard “Coke” brothers and thought they made Coca-Cola. While I do enjoy my Diet Coke, the truth is I am an African American grandmother and an advocate for school choice because it’s what I needed for my own kids and grandbabies in order for them to receive a high-quality education.  

Oftentimes when one challenges leaders in an organization to think differently, they attack the individual rather than listening to ideas. I think [pullquote]there is room in the NAACP to have a dialogue about the importance of school choice for Black parents like me.[/pullquote] That’s why, as a member of the organization, I brought it up through our resolution process. And I am going to stay focused on the substance of why I think the NAACP should change its position on charter schools to one of support.  

California is Failing Black Students

California—the liberal, progressive, wealthy and most diverse state in the nation—does not do right by Black children. Public schools in California do not provide our children with an adequate education. Eighty percent of our Black children are not at grade level for math, and 68% can’t read or write at grade level. And Black students are suspended four times more than White students in California.

A full 85% of Black public school students in California are enrolled in district-run schools. So, traditional public schools must own these results. They reflect the reality of what Black parents in California are facing when we go down to the neighborhood school to enroll our children. That’s why 50,000 of us have chosen a public charter school for our children. The NAACP’s position calling for a moratorium on charter schools threatens to take this choice away. If this isn’t a civil rights issue, then what is? 

My son experienced exclusionary, punitive, excessive and harsh punishment at the hands of his neighborhood, district school. By first grade at age 6, his teacher instituted a “three strikes” system of consequences and had him pick up trash during recess, while other children played. In the classroom, he sat in a desk isolated from all the other children who were at group tables. My son’s desk was turned to face the wall during special class activities, like when the other children enjoyed watching a Charlie Brown movie. 

School Choice is Freedom

As a mother, it was painful for me to see that his school experience was not the nurturing environment I had expected. Instead of being nurtured, at 6 years old he was left with suicidal ideations. After going to battle for him against the district, I realized that while I could not change the district’s behavior, I could change my own.

This is the foundation of school choice. I am free to remove my son from a school system that is failing him and enroll him in a school where he’s able to be safe, learn and thrive. [pullquote position="right"]Having the ability as a parent to make an informed decision about where my child goes to school is freedom.[/pullquote]

My support for school choice stems from the core belief that my son is my child and I get to choose what’s best for him. Wealthy parents get to make these choices by buying homes in upscale neighborhoods with good public schools or paying tuition for private schools. I don’t have that luxury. Instead, I have relied on tuition-free public charter schools and homeschooling.

I believe all parents should have the opportunity to decide what is best for their children. When special interest groups try to take away this opportunity, parents have to stand up and fight back. It’s as if the California Teachers Association (CTA), the union that is behind this push against charter schools in my state, thinks that parents don’t know what is best for their own children.

The CTA is spending big money to advance its anti-charter school agenda. The Sacramento Bee just reported that California’s largest teachers union spent $1 million a month to restrict charter schools. In 2019, CTA spent $4.3 million to undermine charter schools and parent choice, spending more than any other lobby in the state. The next biggest spenders were oil companies including Western States Petroleum Association and Chevron, ringing in at $4.1M and $3.7M respectively.

It takes audacity and bravery to stand up against these forces in our education system and demand choice and change. I’ve learned that the more I advocate, the more they battle with fear-mongering in order to maintain control. Many Black parents have become weary as they have raised their voices to advocate for their children and the very institutions they were taught to trust betrayed them. I advocate for their children and empower them to choose what’s best for their child. Though this battle is like David versus Goliath, remember—in the end, David wins. 

Our Children Are Depending On Us

I attended the presidential candidate forum in Detroit at the 110th National NAACP Annual Convention. I heard our National NAACP president, Derrick Johnson, say we cannot get distracted by district schools versus charter schools. I perked up as I thought that we were finally going to have a discussion about supporting a parent’s right to choose and we did. 

Derrick Johnson introduced former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg to open the session before the nine Democratic presidential candidates took the stage to be interviewed by journalist April Ryan. Mayor Bloomberg talked about growing up watching his father support the NAACP to applause. Bloomberg then gave a wide-ranging talk including a significant speech on school reform, his support for school choice and the positive results for students when he was mayor of New York. The audience applauded Bloomberg.  

I noticed after Bloomberg spoke, not one of the Democrats, not even Bernie Sanders, attacked charter schools. Maybe they read the polls that say African American and Latino Democrats support charter schools or maybe they just read the room. [pullquote]I suspect that the National NAACP is ready to move on from the education wars. California Hawaii NAACP should, too.[/pullquote] 

We should be supporting all educational options that serve African American children well. This is what civil rights activists are all about. Stand up and fight, our children are depending on us!

Photo courtesy of the author.

Christina Laster

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. Christina was formerly an executive committee member of the California Hawaii NAACP, the Education chairwoman and Youth Council advisor of Southwest Riverside County NAACP.

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