Chavous: Taking a leap back – Why the NAACP is wrong on school choice

Update: AFC: NAACP Anti-Charter School Proposal Tarnishes Organization’s History

By Kevin P. Chavous

Two of the most exciting days of my life were the day that I received my local library card and, years later, the day I received my NAACP card. I think the two are tied hand-in-hand.

2016 AFC Policy Summit on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, at the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center in Fort Washington, Maryland. Photo by Shealah CraigheadI was raised in Indianapolis during the rise of the Civil Rights movement, and there were a lot of things, as a child, I didn’t understand. When I encountered those situations, my father told me to read ‘such and such’ book to learn more or research ‘this’ issue. Seeing the great work of the NAACP opened my eyes to exploring the issues we faced as a nation and as African Americans, which further cultivated my love of learning. Throughout my life, my parents instilled in our family the importance of learning – about yourself, the world around you and your culture. This positive influence helped me to succeed.

This is one of the many reasons why I am extremely disappointed in the NAACP’s decision to consider a moratorium on charter schools. The organization’s resistance to educational choice and giving every family in our country educational options hurts the learning culture that is necessary for our nation and our people to thrive and succeed.

I’ll be frank, our nation’s education system is one of the last remaining Jim Crow laws in our country. Families are told, this is the school your child has to go to and has to use. There is no alternative. There are a great deal of racial challenges in schools simply because the system truly doesn’t benefit minority kids. They are given a bad hand in what oftentimes are already very difficult circumstances to grow up in whether it be a poor family, in a bad neighborhood or without strong, positive influences in their lives.

Years ago, the NAACP fought to give African Americans the right to use any water fountain or sit where they like on a bus, but they refuse to do the same now to fight for black children who are trapped in a failing school to access their right to receive a great education.

The education status quo is failing students. Charter schools, private school choice and educational options give children the opportunity to contribute to the learning culture in America we so desperately need. As a nation, we’re falling behind and without excitement around learning and school, we will continue to struggle. With school choice, students are able to attend a school that they love and where they can develop the love of learning that I have found to be so influential in my life. Every child should love to learn, and we do that through school choice.

We do need to come up with a plan to make every neighborhood school in our nation great. But while we sit here and plan-the-plan and debate-the-debate, we are losing kids. Most importantly, for the NAACP, we are losing minority children who could one day become the next successful NAACP members, advocates and leaders. I support all educational options – public, charter, private and virtual learning – and, if it follows its mission to give all people equal rights, the NAACP should too.

As the NAACP board convenes in Cincinnati this weekend to vote on this education issue, among others, I would urge them to learn more about Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar. A few years ago, Kelley was convicted of lying about her residency so her children could attend a better school. She went to jail and was put on probation for something that affluent families and those with means do every day. These are the people that the NAACP should be helping to protect. She just wanted her children to have a quality education, something that everyone has a right to. What’s sad is that Kelley’s story is the story of many African American families across the country.

As an organization that I admire and influenced me throughout my life, I cannot be silent and let the NAACP be on the wrong side of history. School choice and charter schools are a lifeline to millions of African American families, providing hope, opportunity and success while the education system continues to fail minority students.

Kevin P. Chavous is a founding board member 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 where he was responsible for enacting numerous education reforms in D.C. Chavous is chair emeritus of the Democrats for Education Reform and a former chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and his latest book is,“Building a Learning Culture in America” is available now.

American Federation for Children is the nation’s leading school choice advocacy organization and works in states across the country to help secure additional, high-quality educational options for families.

Update Oct. 15, 2016: The NAACP passed the anti-charter school resolution, full statement from the American Federation for Children, “AFC: NAACP Anti-Charter School Proposal Tarnishes Organization’s History.”