As you already know, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took another wrongful stand against Black families and Black children this weekend when it approved a call for a moratorium on the expansion of public charter schools. By voting against charters, the once-relevant civil rights group told by more than 3,000 Black parents and school leaders – as well as the 700,000 Black children attending charters today – that their desires for high-quality schools deserve no consideration.
So it wasn’t shocking to me that NAACP announced that it would also launch a “special taskforce” Supposedly, this group, which features longtime advocates within NAACP who have long opposed charters such as national board member Hazel Dukes, will eventually offer recommendations that will require charters to meet “the same transparency and accountability standards” as traditional districts, ensure that districts don’t lose funding to charters, and that charters “cease to perpetuate de facto segregation”.
This is laughable. Because all of the arguments NAACP is making against charters are fundamentally wrong and incredibly inaccurate. By engaging in such fallacious thinking, the national NAACP is reminding every Black family that it is out of touch with their desires to have the best opportunities for their children to achieve success as adults.
The NAACP claims that charters are less-transparent than traditional districts. This is unequivocally untrue. Unlike traditional school districts, whose boards are often unaccountable even to the very citizens who elect them, charters must report to authorizers, who can determine whether the schools should remain open or be shut down if they aren’t improving student achievement or managing their finances properly.
In Connecticut, for example, anyone proposing to open a charter school must go through a process that includes public hearings, and even reviews by state education agencies. Similar processes exist for charters in other states, including those authorized by state education departments. No traditional public school district in America is put through such scrutiny. Not even a district such as Bridgeport, which remains in business despite failing to educate 95 percent of its students to grade level in math.
Charters operate under contracts that must be renewed over time; in Connecticut, the Capital Prep charter school in the city of Bridgeport operates under a five-year contract that can either be renewed if my school achieves results for the children it serves – or be shut down if it doesn’t. This is different from a traditional district, which operates in perpetuity no matter how many children drop out of school or how many futures are damaged by their teaching and curricula.
Charter schools are even under the oversight of their own boards, which usually require parents and community leaders to serve on them. Charters are also required to issue public reports about its operations and finance, as well as even report data on the salaries paid to teachers and school leaders. Once you consider all of the layers of scrutiny under which charters labor, it is clear that they are transparent and accountable to the public despite not having boards elected by them.
The even more-laughable statement by NAACP is that charters somehow divert funding from traditional public school districts. This isn’t true, either (even though if life were fair, it would be). Districts often get to keep school funding – even when children no longer attend their schools. In fact, charters get less money than traditional districts for serving children with the same academic needs.
In Bridgeport, for example, the district keeps all of the $3.75 million it gets for 250 students – even though they are now attending my charter school. The State of Connecticut must then send off $2.5 million to Capital Prep to educate the children in my schools – even though those funds could easily come from the district since it no longer serves them.
Let’s say this again: The Bridgeport district loses no money even though they are providing no educational services to the 250 Black children we teach. In fact, there’s a net gain to Bridgeport because the district gets more money every time a parent pulls their kid out of its classes and enrolls them in a charter school. This is not only true in Bridgeport, it is true in most cities where districts and charters must co-exist.
Even more perverse is that charters serve the same children as districts with fewer dollars. Bridgeport, for example, gets $15,000 per student – including each of the students attending my charter. On the other hand, Capital Prep receives $11,000 per student, or 27 percent less than the per-pupil funding collected by Bridgeport (including for children attending my charter – and no longer attending the district’s schools). Thanks to the decision of Connecticut’s state legislature, charters will receive $11 million less in funding this upcoming school year than they did the last. By the way: Eighty-four percent of charters in Connecticut outperform schools operated by districts in the state.
No matter how you look at it, it is wasteful and absurd to give districts funding for children they no longer serve. Yet NAACP’s leaders believe this should be the case. At the same time, NAACP believes absurdly that NAACP that districts, especially those failing to teach Black children properly, should hold ransom the very property tax dollars Black people and others pay for high-quality education. This is the kind of thinking embraced by the very Jim Crow segregationists that NAACP fought a half-century ago.
Just like Pell Grants used by Black high school graduates to attend any college they want, be it Hampton or Harvard, the public education dollars Black parents and communities pay should follow their children to any school that serves them. In many ways, it already does. Traditional school districts throughout the country, including in Washington, D.C., pay private schools to take kids in special education programs off their hands. Why shouldn’t Black parents be able to take the funding they pay into public education and direct it to the charters and other schools that serve their children? NAACP can’t offer a compelling reason this should not be the case.
Finally, contrary to what NAACP argues, charters don’t perpetuate segregation. If anything, it is clear that NAACP doesn’t understand the difference between Black parents and children choosing schools that may be majority-Black for many reasons (including for the same reasons why Black people still choose HBCUs today), and being forced by law to attend schools based on a zip code or school boundary determined by others. Even worse, it is unwilling to learn from its own history.
Seven decades ago, culminating with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, NAACP fought against Black kids being forced to attend schools based on race and school boundaries often determined by race and class. The traditional district, borne from slavery and the agrarian past, has always epitomized what the NAACP has fought against. From the 1950s to the present, NAACP fought against such de facto discrimination by supporting magnet schools, which like charters, are a form of school choice, as well as for ending zip code education policies through such means as busing.
Yet now, by calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, the most-popular form of school choice for Black families and a tool that has allowed for their liberation, NAACP is fighting to ensure the very policies it once fought against. There is something wrong when a Black civil rights group embraces the tools of slave masters and segregationists of the past.
What NAACP wants to do, plain and simple, is further injustice against Black children. By supporting traditional districts that continue to segregate Black children and subject them to educational failure, the NAACP is perpetuating injustice against Black children. By teaming up with the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, both of which have supported it financially, NAACP is choosing to help those unions hold the lives of our children at ransom in order for their financial gain. And by opposing charter schools and the Black children who attend them, NAACP is defending educational inequity that keeps Black children and communities from achieving their potential.
There’s no research or practice that suggests that the traditional school district developed for a 1635 slave-based agrarian society has or will ever be good for Black people. Yet the NAACP’s call against charters supports exactly that – and in the process, it is drifting further away from its core mission and our current academic needs.
When the NAACP resets its fundamental understanding of public education, it can engage in a meaningful productive dialogue. As for now, it has no place in the discussion of how to better the education of Black people.