Jacques: School choice is not racist

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

The fact Betsy DeVos is education secretary has pushed teachers union leaders over the edge.

The frenzied reaction to DeVos’ nomination was bad enough, but the misleading rhetoric the unions are peddling now is downright crazy. And unfortunately, organizations like the NAACP are falling in line, to the dismay of many in the black community.

American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten wants you to think that school choice is racist.

During a speech to members last month, Weingarten referred to taxpayer-funded private school vouchers and tax credits as “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”

These private options, according to Weingarten, along with for-profit charters (a boogeyman often raised by unions) “hide a dangerous ideological agenda” and “when a family chooses a private school, in reality it is the school and not the family that makes the choice.”

Huh? The thousands of families who benefit from school choice programs in their state should feel offended.

“It’s completely outlandish,” says Jason Bedrick, director of policy for EdChoice.

Weingarten tied the country’s ugly segregationist past to current choice trends. But the modern movement has nothing to do with the nation’s racist history.

The most vocal school choice advocates today are often minorities who are sick of the pathetic education options offered to their children.

What Weingarten should focus on is the glaring segregation in traditional public schools, as a Government Accountability Office report found. That’s the case in Metro Detroit. District lines are based on where you live, and people here still live in segregated communities.

Bedrick says the defender of “the most segregated institution in this country” has no business saying that school choice is the problem. In fact, nine of 10 studies on the impact of private school choice on segregation found positive results.

“Vouchers let black families into schools they wouldn’t have access to,” Bedrick says.

What Weingarten is scared of is any movement to take precious dollars away from the public school establishment, never mind what is actually better for individual families.

The NAACP, which gets support from teachers unions, is doubling down on its anti-charter message. Last year, the group called for a moratorium on new charter schools, and now it has issued a task force report on “quality education.”

Yet rather than highlighting the shoddy job traditional public schools (which educate 90 percent of U.S. students) are doing in urban areas, the report focuses on the union mantra of blaming charter schools for bad results. The NAACP has also joined forces with teachers unions to undermine private choice programs.

The irony here is choice is most often directed to families of color and those in poverty, who desperately need better options for their children. In Detroit, where students at the worst urban public school district in the country score single digits in reading and math proficiency, charter schools provide the only lifeline. And parents flock to them. Over half the city’s children are in charter and private schools.

David Hardy, founder and chair of Boys’ Latin Philadelphia Charter School and Donald Hense, founder and chairman of Washington, D.C.’s Friendship Public Charter Schools, responded to the NAACP in a statement: “Rather than embrace the opportunities that charter schools represent to families of color across the nation, the NAACP has chosen to stifle a movement that, for thousands of children, is the greatest — and only — hope for achieving a quality education.”

Hardy and Hense are African-American. And they run schools that primarily benefit minority families. They know what they’re talking about.

DeVos often defends her position by saying parents should have the ability to make the choice that best serves their children. What Weingarten has done is tell families they are incapable of making that decision.

That’s the ultimate insult.