This post originally appeared on the American Federation of Children‘s blog.
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.”