Thursday, September 05, 2013

Criticism for Obama's Ed Reforms

In my email on 8/26, I wrote:

I give the Obama administration high marks for its courage and bold action on ed reform, but one glaring weakness has been the unwillingness to embrace carefully targeted voucher programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The administration has given itself a further black eye in this area by filing suit to block Louisiana’s voucher program, which is benefitting thousands of students, 86% of whom are black. Below is an excellent article by ed warrior John Kirtley, who writes: “On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s great speech, a black U.S. attorney general working for the nation’s first black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their children.”

Below are three more articles criticizing this terrible decision.

a) Here’s the first, a WSJ editorial:

Give Eric Holder credit for cognitive racial dissonance. On nearly the same day the Attorney General spoke in Washington to honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, his Justice Department sued to block the educational dreams of minority children in Louisiana.

Late last week, Justice asked a federal court to stop 34 school districts in the Pelican State from handing out private-school vouchers so kids can escape failing public schools. Mr. Holder's lawyers claim the voucher program appears "to impede the desegregation progress" required under federal law. Justice provides little evidence to support this claim, but there couldn't be a clearer expression of how the civil-rights establishment is locked in a 1950s time warp.
Passed in 2012, Louisiana's state-wide program guarantees a voucher to students from families with incomes below 250% of poverty and who attend schools graded C or below. The point is to let kids escape the segregation of failed schools, and about 90% of the beneficiaries are black.
But Justice is more worried about the complexion of the schools' student body than their manifest failure to educate. During the 2012-13 school year, about 10% of voucher recipients came from 22 districts that remain under desegregation orders from 50 or so years ago.
For example, says the complaint, in several of those 22 districts "the voucher recipients were in the racial minority at the public school they attended before receiving the voucher." In other words, Justice is claiming that the voucher program may be illegal because minority kids made their failing public schools more white by leaving those schools to go to better private schools.

…Our guess—confirmed by sources in Louisiana—is that this lawsuit isn't really about integration. It's about helping the teachers union repeal the voucher law by any legal means, and the segregation gambit is the last one available. Justice gives this strategy away when it claims "jurisdiction over Louisiana" even for vouchers for students in districts without desegregation orders.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana has emerged as a leader in school reform, with city-wide charter schools in New Orleans and now statewide vouchers for the poor. A black Attorney General ought to be applauding this attempt to fulfill MLK's dream of equal educational opportunity. His lawsuit turns racial justice on its head.

b) Here’s an article by the Rev. H.K. Matthews in Alabama:

In 1965 I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma. Forty five years later I marched with almost 6,000 low income parents in Tallahassee. How are these events related?
We marched with Dr. King for empowerment. We fought for the right to vote, but it was a fight for the empowerment we deserved as citizens.

When I led the march on the Florida capitol in 2010, I was with parents who also sought empowerment. These low income parents sought the right to choose the best school for their children. They came to support the Florida tax credit scholarship program. That’s right—the same program contained in the Alabama Accountability Act. They traveled great distances to show their support—over 1,000 slept on buses overnight from Miami.

I’m sure the Southern Poverty Law Center does many good things for low income families—but they have it wrong on this program. They say: if you can’t help all low income kids at once, you shouldn’t help any. It’s a good thing we didn’t take that attitude towards civil rights--change didn’t happen overnight; we made progress one lunch counter at a time.
The Florida scholarship program—which works almost identically to the scholarship aspect of the Alabama Act---was created in 2001. This Fall over 60,000 low income children will attend the school of their parents’ choice.

The public schools deserve our greatest respect, and not just for their heroic efforts to educate our children. It was, for many years, one of the few ladders of economic opportunity for African Americans.

But public education is not a system of buildings or employees—it’s a goal, an ideal. Despite the best efforts of everyone—teachers, parents, principals—some children will not fit well with their assigned school. Low income parents must be empowered to find the environment in which their children will succeed.

Parents with means always have choices. They move to neighborhoods for their public schools. Or they pay for an alternative. Only those without means lack choices.

c) An here’s the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO):

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the leader of a prominent national black education group says school desegregation orders might no longer be useful. Ken Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, was responding to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit charging Louisiana's school voucher program hurts desegregation efforts.

Today, Campbell said, educational excellence is more important for racial progress than equity in a given school. "We can't ignore the kind of history of efforts to stop or block integration in schools in the South in the '60s and '70s," he said. But he added: "I think in 2013 we have to have a very different viewpoint in some regards.

"In the name of racial harmony or racial integration, we're going to assign kids to failing schools? These aren't easy issues."

The Black Alliance for Educational Options has been the loudest institutional voice in support of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which lets low-income children in C-, D- and F-graded schools attend participating private schools at taxpayer expense. The group held a news conference Tuesday morning in Amite City to urge the Justice Department to drop the lawsuit.

 Subscribe in a reader