Education reform leaders and school choice advocates Dr. Howard Fuller, Derrell Bradford, Darrell Allison, and Kevin P. Chavous held a conference call following an astonishing attack on families and education reform advocates by AFT President Randi Weingarten.
Last week, Weingarten accused those exercising and advancing school choice as being “polite cousins of segregation.” The politically charged and historically inaccurate attack drew immediate ire from parents, education reform leaders, and activists nationwide. Since its inception, private school choice has been a vehicle to empower parents whose children are trapped in traditional public schools that fail to meet their needs, or, during segregation, kept out of the public schools that black families paid taxes into. Today, the primary beneficiaries of the nation’s private school choice programs are low-income, working-class, and minority families.
Below are quotes from the media conference call, as well as a full recording and transcript:
Kevin P. Chavous, Founding Board Member for the American Federation for Children:
“Let’s be clear: the hypocrisy coming out of the mouth of Randi Weingarten reeks. Back in her comments, she has in effect spat in the face of every African American and Hispanic child who’s trapped in the school that doesn’t serve them well, and spat in the face of their parents. In addition…as Dr. Fuller said, history didn’t just start last week, or twenty years ago. The private school reality for most American children of color started because black folks weren’t getting a fair shake with traditional public schools. And now we’re in a place where there are some terrific public schools, and there are some challenged public schools. Our view, those of us on the call, is it is clear and it is important for us to provide as many options for these parents in need today, and not just wait for the one system that most people are used to, to rightsize itself in the process.”
Dr. Howard Fuller, civil rights leader, and Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for Transformation of Learning at Marquette University:
“I’ve been on panels with Randi Weingarten and other people who oppose parent choice. And while I think Randi Weingarten is disingenuous on this latest argument that she’s making, and I actually think she knows it, I think what we have to be clear about, this is not a personality issue – this is about power and control. The fact of the matter is Randi is doing what she can do so that the people that she represents can maintain control and power over a system. And the threat of vouchers and charter schools and all of this, let’s be real, what it’s about is reducing the number of people who are under her control. And what that means is there’s less resources for them to engage in the political atmosphere that they engage in, which I do not fault them. So I’ve always believed that this whole thing is about: whose interests are being served? And I would argue that for those of us who believe that low-income and working class parents ought to have choice, we’re trying to as best we can represent the interest of those families because I believe that having choice empowers them…What we’re attempting to do is give more power to low-income and working-class parents, to give them some of the options that as Kevin and others have said, that the people who oppose parent choice have for their own children. So from my standpoint, that’s what this is about, it’s not going to abate because the power issue is too important and so we are on two different sides of the power equation in this debate.”
Derrell Bradford, Executive Vice President of 50CAN and Executive Director of NYCAN:
“You can look in the state like New Jersey, where I worked for a very long time, which has a constitutional provision against school segregation, yet has among the most segregated schools in America, you know the 600 school districts – the 600 ways not to go to school with one another. Or you can look at New York, which you know, the former seat of President Weingarten’s power, where from a diversity per square inch standpoint, you should have the most integrated schools in America, but in practice you have the most segregated public schools possible, to understand that the system that she advocates for and that her fellow travelers have advocated for, is actually the biggest, most pernicious engine of segregation in American culture. Period. And I just, you know one of the great things you can do when you’re running for office or something, is blame the other person for something that you did. And this head-fake is the worst sort of chicanery from the AFT, from the NEA, from CAP, and all the other acronyms that don’t want to provide the full range of options to African American low-income families, in particular. And they know better and it’s sad that they’ve elected to take this line of reasoning on this issue.”
Darrell Allison, President of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina:
“You know in our state we have 2,450 traditional public schools, and poor low-income, mostly minority children are disproportionally assigned to public schools with letter grade D or F. So when we make broad strokes statements that public schools are places of “endless opportunities” or “public schools are great,” you know for that low-income parent in North Carolina, when faced with the reality of schools the system assigned their precious child to, there’s nothing great about that. And the predicament is not even optimistic. In fact what we’ve seen in North Carolina, for families of color, this situation is where we’re seeing families take matters into their own hands. And for example, we passed the Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2013, giving low-income families a scholarship to attend private schools of their choice, now you fast forward to this year, February 1st, so between February 1st and July 18th, over 10,000 new applications flooded in from mostly poor families in North Carolina.”
Bios of the conference call leaders:
Dr. Howard Fuller is a distinguished professor of education, and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University in Milwaukee. From 1991-1995, before his appointment at Marquette University, Dr. Fuller served as the Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, earning national recognition as effective champion of fundamental education reform. His prior positions include Director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, Dean of General Education at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Employment Relations, and Associate Director of the Educational Opportunity Program at Marquette University. He is the chairman of the board of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. As a civil rights leader, Dr. Fuller has been involved for decades on the issue of providing low-income families opportunities with their educational path. He is the author of No Struggle, No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform.
Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president of 50CAN and the executive director of NYCAN. In his national role, Derrell recruits and trains local leaders across the 50CAN network for roles as CAN executive directors, fellows and YouCAN advocates. Derrell continues his work as the executive director of NYCAN and on network-wide innovations like the Corps Knowledge project. Derrell previously served as the executive director at Better Education for Kids. At B4K Derrell worked to secure passage of the tenure reform legislation TEACH NJ. B4K’s advocacy also led to electoral victories for reform-minded candidates across the state. Prior to B4K, Derrell spent nine years with New Jersey’s Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) as director of communications and then executive director. While there he also served on the state’s Educator Effectiveness Task Force.
Darrell Allison is the founding president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. Allison is working to reform and redefine K-12 education. His work, focused on expanding educational opportunity for all children, is based on a fundamental premise: Parents, regardless of address or income, should be free to choose the best school for their child. Darrell has played an instrumental role in the passage of historic school choice legislation, including: elimination of the cap on public charter schools; creation of a tuition grant program for special needs students; and establishment of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides private school scholarships to low-income families. In 2016 Darrell worked to secure successful passage of legislation that exponentially grows the Opportunity Scholarship Program through $145 million in funding over the next decade. Honored as an Education Reformer to Watch by the Walton Family Foundation in 2013, Darrell has also been recognized as a Diversity Champion for Education Reform by Partners for Developing Futures. Darrell has not only been impactful in the K-12 landscape in North Carolina, but he also serves on the Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina System that oversees 16 university campuses serving nearly 250,000 students.
Kevin P. Chavous is a founding board member and executive counsel for the American Federation for Children. He is a former member of the Council of the District of Columbia and a former chairman of D.C.’s Education Committee. Chavous was responsible for enacting numerous education reforms in D.C. Chavous is a former chair of the Democrats for Education Reform and of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. A noted author, and a leading national advocate for educational choice, Chavous helped to shepherd the charter school movement into the nation’s capital. Under his education committee chairmanship, the D.C. charter school movement became the most prolific charter school jurisdiction in the country, with now nearly half of D.C.’s public school children attending charter schools.
Alright Kevin I have 10:00 AM on my end, you are welcome to start whenever you’d like.
Kevin P. Chavous:
Well hello everyone, this Kevin Chavous. Appreciate you calling in. We felt, many of us, that it was important in the wake of this campaign of misinformation that is being created and disseminated by not just union officials but organizations like the Center for American Progress, many of us who have been active in the movement to provide greater educational opportunities for kids of color, particularly African American kids, felt it was important for us to set the record straight.
This movement of disinformation actually started several years ago when charter schools and the private school choice movement started gaining traction around America. And there was this big discussion by the union officials around this notion that charter schools helped create more segregation. Well that is absolutely false and the people on the call today will give some real, not just historical perspective, but also some practical perspective as to where things have been, and where they are and frankly where they need to be.
And hopefully highlight the fact that more than anything this is about the notion of political power and control. And for those who have been involved in maybe not educating our kids the way they are, but the way they should be educated, they still want control the educational system in America, sometimes to the detriment of our children.
On the call we’ve got Dr. Howard Fuller, Derrell Bradford and Darrell Allison, I’m going to ask each of them to talk for a couple minutes and then I’ll close it out and then we’ll take some questions. Again we appreciate your time, and when each of the people begin to speak, please just identify who you’re with and then we’ll take it from there. So Dr. Fuller why don’t you kick it off.
Dr. Howard Fuller:
Thanks very much Kevin and thanks to those of you who joined the call. I just want to take a couple minutes to set a historical context for this whole discussion. And it’s a context that I assume that because Randi at some point was a teacher, probably knows but has chosen to ignore, along with some of her other allies. The fact of the matter is that, the public education system in the South was established in large part because of the struggle of ex slaves. Anybody who knows the history, knows that it was the Freedmen’s Bureau that took the lead in establishing the public education system in the South. And black people were at the forefront, obviously, of creating that system. Poor white people essentially bought into the notion that white supremacy, that they didn’t need an education because the planter class was going to take care of them.
Then when the Missouri compromise took place in 1877 and essentially people were restored to power that the Civil War was fought to essentially get them out of power, one of the first things that they did was to start establishing public schools for white people. And that was in part because of the populous effort and so forth. But when they established those schools, the first thing that they did of course was to deny black people access to those schools. So then what black people had to do, was to pay taxes for schools that they could not go to, but then at the same time, begin to seek ways to establish our own schools.
So with all due respect, everybody who’s out here talking, the notion of parent choice, at least for black people, did not begin with Milton Friedman. Did not begin with a group of white people deciding that it was important for us to have choice, it actually began because of the racist practices of people in the traditional public school system. And having been a Superintendent, having done my dissertation on discriminatory implementation of desegregation, I find that the comments that are being made today frankly as laughable. And they only have currency because people willfully and purposefully choose to ignore history.
Kevin P. Chavous:
Alright, thank you very much, Dr Fuller. Derrell?
Yea I don’t really know what I did to offend Kevin, but it must have been something bad for me to go after Howard. [laughs] So I just want to figure out what I can add. Good morning everyone, and I just want to echo Kevin and Howard’s thanks for joining us on the call.
Just a couple of points I think are really important. The first one is, especially if you read the text of Randi Weingarten’s speech – I think I’m being generous by calling it a speech – she really makes this case for the neighborhood school, which is the cornerstone of ostensibly everything they believe in. And I just don’t think that with the history of segregation in this country, both in terms of just housing and absolutely in terms of schooling as a result of that, that you can be for neighborhood school primacy, and for school integration at the same time – because those things totally cancel one another out. And I just want to highlight this because, you can look in the state like New Jersey, where I worked for a very long time, which has a constitutional provision against school segregation, yet has among the most segregated schools in America, you know the 600 school districts – the 600 ways not to go to school with one another. Or you can look at New York, which you know, the former seat of President Weingarten’s power, where from a diversity per square inch standpoint, you should have the most integrated schools in America, but in practice you have the most segregated public schools possible, to understand that the system that she advocates for and that her fellow travelers have advocated for, is actually the biggest, most pernicious engine of segregation in American culture. Period.
And I just, you know one of the great things you can do when you’re running for office or something, is blame the other person for something that you did. And this head-fake is the worst sort of chicanery from the AFT, from the NEA, from CAP, and all the other acronyms that don’t want to provide the full range of options to African American low income families, in particular. And they know better and it’s sad that they’ve elected to take this line of reasoning on this issue.
Thanks, Derrell. Darrell?
Hey thanks Kevin. This is Darrell Allison, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. You know in our state we have 2,450 traditional public schools, and poor low income mostly minority children are disproportionally assigned to public schools with letter grade D or F. So when we make broad strokes statements that public schools are places of “endless opportunities” or “public schools are great,” you know for that low income parent in North Carolina, when faced with the reality of schools the system assigned their precious child to, there’s nothing great about that. And the predicament is not even optimistic.
In fact when we’ve seen in North Carolina, for families of color, this situation is where we’re seeing families take matters into their own hands. And for example, we passed the Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2013, giving low income families a scholarship to attend private schools of their choice, now you fast forward to this year, February 1st, so between February 1st and July 18th, over 10,000 new applications flooded in from mostly poor families in North Carolina.
You know what’s even more interesting, though Afro Americans make up 22% of the total population in our state, the applications for Afro Americans alone was over 35% of the 10,000. And this shift is not just happening in Afro American communities, in fact, a major report just came out last week in North Carolina: in one year, traditional public schools enrollment dropped nearly 5,600 students statewide, where in the same time, non traditional public school enrollment – when you look at public charter schools, private schools, and home schools – it increased in one year nearly 24,000.
Now the key point is, you know we have 1.4 million children enrolled in our traditional public schools, and most citizens will continue to choose traditional public schools, as I do for my two young daughters; however, what is clear in North Carolina, that as a result of our expansion, public charter schools, where we now have three private school programs for low income students and children with disabilities, and where we are making home school more practical for families, the dramatic increase in non traditional enrollment numbers in North Carolina are due to now allowing for working class and working poor families to participate for all of these options that have always been available for our wealthiest. We have worked hard to try to make sure that our working class, working poor also have these array of options.
And last but not least, as I know that critics, they hit on this thing politically. And again I represent the South, we’re in North Carolina, the fact of the matter is this: in 2013, we had two Afro American Democratic sponsors of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. This year, February, Black History Month, we had 8 Afro American legislators – almost a third of the Black Caucus in North Carolina – the day before the North Carolina governor, Democratic governor, came out with his budget to gradually shut down the Opportunity Scholarship Program, these 8 Democrats stood flat footed one day before that to announce their full throat support for all options: the Opportunity Scholarship Program, public charter school expansion, and other non traditional support. So I know we get caught up in a lot of rhetoric here and it makes for great quotes and insertions of stories, I just wanted to take just a few minutes here – and Kevin I really appreciate you allowing me to – I wanted to take a few minutes here, just to kind of provide some data, provide a little bit of reality what’s happening here in North Carolina, the Southern region of our nation.
Kevin P. Chavous:
Thanks so much, Darrell. I’ll be quick and Tommy will then lead us through some questions.
Let’s be clear: they hypocrisy coming out of the mouth of Randi Weingarten reeks. Back in her comments, she has in effect spat in the face of every African American and Hispanic child who’s trapped in the school that doesn’t serve them well, and spat in the face of their parents in addition.
The fact of the matter is, that if segregation in America was a primary concern and thrust of the union, then they would have called out against, as Derrell said, what is happening in New York, New Jersey, in St. Louis, and Missouri is still under court order int he Brown case – St. Louis public schools is one of the most segregated school systems in America – they would have issued statement years ago bemoaning the fact that we have allowed for white flight and urban decay and neglect to exacerbate the problems of segregation and dysfunctional class orientation in America, without any statement – none whatsoever – among many in the progressive wing, progressive tiers of my party.
What this is about, more than anything, is a concentrated desire to force American parents to pick sides. Either with them, or with us. And the “us” being those other folks that don’t care for you – and this is another instance where they’re trying to list examples where those who are supporting school choice don’t care for working class families – and nothing could be further from truth.
As Dr. Fuller said, history didn’t just start last week, or twenty years ago. The private school reality for most American children of color started because black folks weren’t getting a fair shake with traditional public schools. And now we’re in a place where there are some terrific public schools, and there are some challenged public schools. Our view, those of us on the call, is it is clear and it is important for us to provide as many options for these parents in need today, and not just wait for the one system that most people are used to, to rightsize itself in the process.
So with that Tommy I’ll turn it over to you and you can then lead us through some questions.
Sure thing. First we’ll head over to Lauren with U.S. News and World Report.
Lauren Camera (U.S. News & World Report):
Hey, thanks for taking my question and I appreciate you guys having this call.
As Kevin mentioned, Randi wasn’t the only person talking about this, obviously the idea came from this CAPS report which was introduced by Congressman Bobby Scott. I was wondering if any of you guys have reached out to Congressman Scott’s office or plan to do so? And then I’m also wondering if you could talk maybe a little bit about where you see where the private school choice versus public education stand-off heading? It seems like maybe there’s not much appetite at least at the federal level for a private school choice program, seeing as appropriations hasn’t really funded any of the administration’s proposals. So, do you see the sort of stand-off simmering down at all or is this just sort of the new normal? Thank you.
Kevin P. Chavous:
Well, I’ll take the first one on Bobby Scott. I know Bobby well. I worked with him when I was on the D.C. Council and I have a lot of respect for Bobby. I know that Bobby cares for kids. But I also know that Bobby does not support private school choice. He’s been lukewarm on vouchers and frankly many of the liberal wing of our party feel that way. But the reality is they also know that the traditional public schools doesn’t provide what it should for all kids. And we have actually seen many local African-American leaders who are becoming more and more open, the local African-American elected officials becoming more and more open on this issue.
I may talk to Bobby, but I don’t think there will be any concentrated effort to do that because I know that that coalition of folks has come together with a purpose to create and ferment this “either or” view of education – it has to be one way and their way and no other way. And we just totally fundamentally disagree with that, particularly when there is such acute need for diverse educational options in our community.
Hey this is Derrell can I try to get to the second question. Sort of a follow-up on Kevin. The first thing I just want to say and I think it’s important. It’s not like we have the public education system and a choice system. The public education system is a choice system. You just choose for the housing market. So, I think it’s really important to understand that like, when we talk about providing more choice to people, period, like we’re talking about expanding the same kind of power that people have who can manipulate the housing market, or who can navigate it, to just working and low-income people. So that’s just an important concession.
On the other part, I actually don’t think this is going to de-escalate, because we’re not having a discrete conversation about what the Congress does. We’re having an important conversation about how America wants to solve its educational problems. And if you consider it that way, whether or not we should have vouchers or tax credits isn’t really the question. It’s do you think private schools have a role in helping us solve the problems that affect many of our neediest students and lots of our kids who are in schools that aren’t a great fit. And I happen to think that answer is yes. And I think a lot of reasonable people would think the answer to that question is yes, too. So you know, what follows is how. And in what way and how you should finance it. I don’t think that conversation is – I think it’s actually just starting to be taken seriously in the way it should be, which is why we’re seeing and hearing such ridiculous rhetoric on the other side.
Ok, with that, we’ll head over to Carolyn at the The 74.
Carolyn Phenicie (The 74):
Thanks. Speaking of this debate not occurring in a bubble: I know the NAACP later this week is going release their report on charters. Wondering how you all are feeling about that and how you think this debate will go into all that?
Kevin P. Chavous:
Howard, do you have any thoughts on that?
Dr. Howard Fuller:
Well, the problem I’m having with this whole thing is – I’m probably the only one on this call that has heard these same arguments since 1988. So, it’s not anything new for me. It’s not anything surprising. And I agree with Derrell, there’s no chance that this is just going to abate anytime soon.
But to answer the question that was just asked, I’m a strong supporter of the NAACP and I think the NAACP has a right to say whatever they want to say about whatever they want to speak on. But the reality is, the NAACP does not represent all black people in this country. And whatever their views are on charter schools, they have a right to express those views. But what’s clear is thousands and thousands and thousands of black parents have already made it known what they think about charter schools by choosing to go to them. And they are going to continue to choose to go to them because for them it provides an option for their children. So, I frankly don’t care what the NAACP says about charter schools. They have every right to do it. It’s not going to change my opinion one iota about what I know is actually happening in charter schools in this country. And the reality of it is, there’s some great charter schools out there and there’s some not-so-great charter schools out there. The value of parent choice is to give people the option to choose. And if some charter school is not working for them, just as some traditional public schools have not worked for them, the value of having choice is to be able to choose another option. So, that’s my opinion on whatever the NAACP intends to say or do.
Kevin P. Chavous:
The other thing I’ll say, Howard, is that the NAACP doesn’t speak for all black folks and they sure as heck don’t speak for black parents. No one group, no one person has the right to declare itself the education decider or the gate keeper for black parents as they navigate the educational system for their own children. So what is happening – the media has allowed certain individuals groups when they speak to end up being the de facto spokesperson for minorities. The NAACP, as Howard said, offers one opinion. The fact we that we have a million kids, and many of them kids of color and many of them black kids, on charter school wait lists; the fact that since 1988 we’ve had these same type of arguments and still several hundred thousand kids, many kids of color, are in private school choice programs; and the sign-up list continues to grow, it suggests that people on the ground, in spite of what many of their leaders say, in spite of what some of these political spokespersons like the NAACP says – the parents want more for their kids. And so, I think that irrespective of what the NAACP says, school choice is to help black choice.
Dr. Howard Fuller:
I agree with you, Kevin. I just want to emphasize the fact that for some reason, people think all black people should be thinking alike. This is absurd! We’ve always had a variety of different opinions on issues affecting us. I mean there are people out there who assume for example that every black person supported the civil rights movement when it was occurring. That is not accurate. You can go back and look at black people who opposed Martin Luther King. So, from my standpoint, it’s hard for me to get all worked up because the NAACP might have a study and has called for moratorium on charter schools. It’s not going to change my reality one bit. But it’s also not going to make me be critical of the NAACP as an organization. We just disagree on this particular issue.
This is Derrell. So two quick things. One, if there was this mythic person who could speak for all black people, it would not be the white head of an organization where 80 percent of the members are white. I just want to point that out. These things are inconsistent with one another.
The other thing I would say, I’ve been kind of honest but I think this is important, it should not be lost on anybody who cares about choice – which is to say you care about private school choice and/or charter schools – and I happy to be a strong supporter of both, as everybody on this call is – that in the same week that Randi Weingarten goes out and blasts half of the charter school world and the all of the private school choice world, that the NAACP is going to come out with a document that basically says we shouldn’t have any more charter schools. What is at stake here is not charters or tax credits, but choice. Choice is actually what’s under assault. And I think it’s important that everybody, particularly some folks in the charter school world understand that.
Hey, Kevin. This is Darrell from North Carolina. I wanted to speak real quickly and dovetail with everyone here.
You know, here in North Carolina obviously where education, you cannot disregard race or politics. It is what it is. And so, in order to be an effective organization, you have to make sure that you’re working collaboratively, that you’re listening as you’re moving, and you’re taken into consideration.
For us, it’s not about just getting more, having more, we’re also very cognizant about how we go about it. And so, with the increase in public charter school, when we start to look at the numbers here of the increases I mentioned earlier: Black Americans really partaking in public charter school expansion. There is private school programs.
We actually did a poll last year, and again really key it was not just a general poll, it was African American Democrats. African American Democrats who vote. And some of the poll results were very very powerful. Among African American voters, 65% would be more likely to support a candidate who favors giving parents options. 60% of African Americans polled favored school choice. And here’s a very powerful one: 85% percent believe that state government need to do more to provide educational options to African American parents.
Now the key point is: we didn’t just have this on our website. We made sure that every elected official both Republican and Democrat. We also made sure that not only the NAACP chapter received this, but we made sure that every single chapter within our 100 counties, the NAACP chapters also received it. We want an open dialogue. We want discussion. You know the bullhorn protests don’t go there. But if you really want to look at the data, if you really want to sit down and have a conversation, there’s no turning away these numbers. And again, I tell you, that if you really want to make an influence, particularly for our policy makers, and again when we continue to see more numbers, particularly in African American, Black Caucus in full support.
Alright, we’ll head over now to Caitlin at Politico.
Caitlin Emma (Politico):
Hey, thanks for doing the call and taking my question. As Lauren noted earlier, you know amid this sort of pitched discussion that we’re having right now over whether or not private schools should be part of the solution for educating disadvantaged students, as Lauren sort of noted, the Trump administration’s plans to expand private school choice that don’t really seem to be going anywhere, I guess it sort of remains to be seen whether or not something happens through tax reform, but who knows – so, realistically where do you all see expanded access to options for families really happening? Is it going to happen in the states? I mean, we’re arguing about this but realistically how can this happen for families? Where is this going to get done?
Kevin P. Chavous:
Well, I’ll quickly say, it is going to happen in the states. It’s been happening in the states. I mean this new opportunity, this federal tax credit proposal was something that Senator Rubio circulated a couple of years ago. It did gain better traction with Secretary DeVos and the Trump Administration. And I think it would give states and give parents more options and that’s a good thing because less is not more. More is more.
With that being said, I mean you’re right Caitlin, the action is still going to be on the states and if you look at the states, in spite of all the rancor, in spite of all the politics, and the vehement, hostile, and diabolical opposition, these programs continue to grow. And each year, several more states are either added on to the list of those that offer private school choice options or those that currently have those options, and have had them for several years continue to grow them. And so, I think it’s gotten more national attention because the president has been pushing it – we’re talking about a federal option, a federal opportunity to expand these options – but the reality is, you’re right: as long as we have a system which every child, now we see the majority kids of color and working-class families are not getting what they deserve. And it’s not going to right itself on its own. As long as that exists, there’s going to be a clamor and a call for more options. And so, we would like to see the federal initiative take hold but it’s not going to stop the avalanche for change.
Dr. Howard Fuller:
Let me say something here that may be a little bit controversial but, I’m going to say it. So, one of the things I keep telling people who support parent choice is that we read a lot of different books, you know Steven Brill’s book and all of this. Randy and her allies and many other people read Saul Alinksy, and one of the things that Saul Alinksy says is that you really decide what it is that you want to do and you try to clothe it in moral garments. A part of what’s happening here, quite frankly, is guilt by association. People like Randi and her allies, and others, they know that there’s a strong dislike for Donald Trump in the black community. Let’s just be real. And so, what they’re trying to do here is to wrap, the choice, the parent choice effort around Donald Trump. And so then what happens is, if you support parent choice, then what it is you’re supporting, “Donald Trump.” I want to make it very clear that parent choice for black people was a battle that took place before Donald Trump was ever born. And I tried to, in the beginning, try to tell you when that, in fact, started. And some of us knew that this was going to happen so Robin Harris and myself did an article very early on to say that Donald Trump is not the face of parent choice. This is not about Donald Trump. This is about low income and working class black parents, families. The families of “the disinherited” that Howard Thurman talks about: having the option to choose. And, if a federal program comes down that’s fine. In likelihood that is not going to happen. The reality is, as Kevin said, this fight has been in the states forever. With ESSA and other things that are happening, the fight is going to continue to be in the states. And we’re not going to be brow beaten by anyone by trying to say because Donald Trump supports choice, that makes it a bad thing. Parent choice is something that low-income and working-class parents should have, will have, and will continue to fight for long after Donald Trump is no longer a reality in America.
Alright and then last but not least we’ll head to Emma Brown, Washington Post.
Emma Brown (Washington Post):
Dr. Fuller, I’m really glad you said that because I wanted to ask how much you thought this had to do with President Trump. So I guess instead I’ll ask you all whether you’re concerned at all that that argument that you just laid out will gain traction with parents and with voters who don’t like Trump, and what your strategy is for making sure that choice stands apart from Trump, you know, so I’m eager to hear from any of you and all of you about that.
Kevin P. Chavous:
Yea, let me quickly respond to that Emma and it’s always good to have Emma Brown on the call.
So this past weekend I was in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has been fighting for a charter bill, an expanded charter bill and they also want a private school choice bill and members of the Urban League, unlike the NAACP, there are several chapters of the Urban League that support all forms of choice. Well they had a back to school rally where they had over 1,000, I think nearly 1,500, low-income, black parents, some stood in line all night in front of the Urban League headquarters to get backpacks and school supplies and as we were talking to them this past weekend about the prospect of private school choice, many of the parents told me personally “We’d stand in line for that!”
Now to Howard’s point, I see this all over the country, these parents, they ain’t thinking about Donald Trump when they’re thinking about where their daughter, their son is going to go to first grade, just like none of us are. We’re thinking about where they are going to go to school, with our children, our grandchildren. So the reality is that it is the educated elite, it is the politicos, it is those insiders that are focused on that. Now some of that bleeds over, and if they ever get traction, it’s Randi and others by saying “Oh you support this, you support Donald Trump and that’s bad.” But the thing about education and it is so important to recognize and always acknowledge: it is a highly personal thing when it comes to your own child and just like those poor black folks I was with this weekend who were talking to me about their hopes and dreams and aspirations for their children, and the fact that the one school that most of them have to send their kids to, doesn’t work for them, and if they had the opportunity to get something else, that’s defies any of the national politics, or any of the national political personalities. These parents want what’s best for their kids, like every other parent.
Kevin if I can add, this is Derrell Allison from North Carolina, and I want to be pretty direct here: just because you’re poor, doesn’t mean you’re dumb or stupid. And so I appreciate the policy, the table that policy makers when they are discussing things over that table, and but when we sit down, talk to these parents here in North Carolina, at the kitchen table, you know it is a matter of finding a school – they don’t care what make, model or shape – they want a school that’s going to work for them. So where we in D.C. or politicians, partisans are debating or special interest groups are trying to hold and maintain their turf – the only turf they are concerned about is the proper school turf where their kid is going to be safe and where they feel like, in this room my child is going to learn. That’s the first point.
So this is Derrell. I’ll try to pick up where Darrell left off. I’ll make three quick points.
One, which is something that Howard said and I think is really important and I found it in my discussion with lots of people in lots of states. You know, my beliefs and our beliefs and the beliefs of many people who support all options for families, didn’t germinate on the day after Donald Trump won the election. We’ve believed this for years, decades and in some cases many decades, so it’s politically convenient to act like everybody just showed up all of a sudden and decided we were going to be on that train but the truth of it is different.
The other thing I would say is just that like, look, Donald Trump sent his kids to private school. If everybody who hates Donald Trump and is serious about it, they need to leave their private schools too. If Donald Trump liking something is supposed to be the Litmus Test for whether or not it’s acceptable, then I would feel those who oppose him and oppose private school choice but who send their own kids to private school – un-enroll. If that doesn’t happen, then I think to Kevin’s point, what’s really going on here is that there are people who have a way out, who are more concerned about who they can talk to about cocktail parties and the education of their own children, than they are about empowering low-income families with the same ability to navigate the system that they have. And that ain’t new. And it’s actually not about Trump, he’s just the excuse, the latest excuse that people are using to deny families who desperately are in search of the right fit, more options.
One last point, sitting at the table, and again this is the nuance, this is the intelligence that these families have. Again I understand the politics but they don’t get caught up in that. So we have sat with many families who qualify for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and they investigated for the very first time that private school. They looked back at the public school that their child was currently enrolled in, you have to be in public school, leave the public school in order to get the scholarship to attend a private school. What many parents have told us, we have robust numbers, they said, “Darrell, when I investigated X private school, B private school, we chose to remain in the public school system in elementary. But Darrell, if this program is still here, we believe that the [private] middle school is going to be best for my child.” So we are looking at this at, not leaving the system or choosing this school over the other, these parents are looking at now K-12 education in a broad sense and they are thinking through strategically elementary grade, middle grade, high school. They are looking at the various options, traditional, private, public charter, etc. That’s the intellect, that’s the precision, that’s the insight that these families have. They understand the political process, but at the same time they just want some workable models, and some tools that’s going to help them find a way for a pathway for their children.
Dr. Howard Fuller:
Yea, I just want to say, and I’m going to try and make this really clear, I’ve been on panels with Randi Weingarten and other people who oppose parent choice. And while I think Randi Weingarten is disingenuous on this latest argument that she’s making, and I actually think she knows it, I think what we have to be clear about, this is not a personality issue – this is about power and control. The fact of the matter is Randi is doing what she can do so that the people that she represents can maintain control and power over a system. And the threat of vouchers and charter schools and all of this, let’s be real, what it’s about is reducing the number of people who are under her control. And what that means is there’s less resources for them to engage in the political atmosphere that they engage in, which I do not fault them. So I’ve always believed that this whole thing is about: whose interests are being served? And I would argue that for those of us who believe that low-income and working class parents ought to have choice, we’re trying to as best we can represent the interest of those families because I believe that having choice empowers them. They then begin to have more control over the flow and distribution of the money, because at the end of the day what Randi is attempting to do, and I don’t disrespect her for it because that’s what she is supposed to do, is to make sure that her union and the people she represents can continue to control the districts in the way that they have done.
What we’re attempting to do is give more power to low-income and working-class parents, to give them some of the options that as Kevin and others have said, that the people who oppose parent choice have for their own children. So from my standpoint, that’s what this is about, it’s not going to abate because the power issue is too important and so we are on two different sides of the power equation in this debate.
Kevin P. Chavous:
Like I’ve always said the only ones who are against school choice are the ones that have it. And so I think you can take that and you can apply it across the country. I think Howard is absolutely right about Randi, Randi knows exactly what she’s doing and she is using that wedge of race and class to help ferment this issue and as Howard mentioned earlier, wrap it around the president as if to say that if you’re for school choice, you’re for Donald Trump and that’s just not the case. We’ve been for school choice and we’ve been for working class parents, as Howard said, for many, many years. And with respect to the federal program, to me while it is held up with some of the other machinations going on on Capitol Hill, it’s still a viable option and once we get beyond the hype and people are able to dig deep and legislators see what it actually could do, it wouldn’t force school choice on states, what it would do though is give states the option and opportunity to expand their already existing leanings toward providing greater school choice opportunities for parents and families and again from our point of view, that’s a good thing.
So thank you all very much, thanks to all the participants and for the members of the media that gathered with us.
Nope, that will be it. Thank you all for staying on for about 45 minutes. We really appreciate it. Feel free to follow up with me if you have any further questions.