RALEIGH — A bipartisan coalition of African-American lawmakers called a press conference Tuesday to throw their support behind school choice. The group was made up of senators and representatives, Democrats and Republicans representing rural and urban districts; but they all had in common a desire to tackle the challenges facing public education.
“It is time for us to adopt a paradigm where school choice options are not viewed as competitive but complementary; where parents aren’t viewed as consumers of education products, but partners in educating their children,” said Sen. Ben Clark (D-Cumberland).”I believe that we should have the same choice and free market in education,” said Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram (D-Bertie). “We must continue to support our traditional public schools and make sure our 180,000 teachers have adequate pay and our 1.5 million students have the textbooks and technology they need. At the end of the day we must have educated students to have a productive citizenry. We have to get away from the ‘either, or’ and set our hands and tasks to creating the ‘both, and.'”
Critics of school choice, including Gov. Roy Cooper and former 12-year veteran DPI School Superintendent June Atkinson, say the initiatives put a strain on traditional public schools causing families and money to leave the system. But according to Rep. Ed Haynes (D-Guilford) choice only challenges the failing programs.”I don’t know of parents running from good programs. I don’t see that,” said Hanes. “Where there are good programs, parents run toward those good programs. I certainly have seen systems actively squeeze the life out of programs that were once good, for all kinds of ugly reasons, but we need to have an honest conversation about that.
“I have a school in my district that has an average 3rd grading reading proficiency of 8 percent. That is a 92 percent fail rate. I cannot in good conscience look any mother or father in the eyes and defend that. None of us would invest with a broker who had a 92 percent fail rate,” he added.
The gathering has been a long time coming. Many of the lawmakers in the room have opposed charter schools, home schooling and other options in the past, saying they undermine traditional public schools.
“It took me a minute to get me here but now that I’m here I’m going to go all the way with you,” said Rep. Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg) to Parents for Educational Freedom executive director Darrell Allison. Allison is one of the earliest champions of school choice, leading the charge for Opportunity Scholarships and similar programs.Though but a small faction of Democrats united behind school choice, the group said their numbers are growing and they are confident that the growth will continue.”It not a Republican thing or a Democrat thing; it’s simply the right thing to do,” said Allison.