The vast majority of the 700 parents, grandparents, and educators crowded into the North Raleigh Hilton Jan. 24 were black.
Many were dressed in their Sunday’s finest, and some chanted “Praise God” and “Amen” as they listened to the “good news.” The event featured the intensity and fervor of a tent revival or a civil-rights demonstration.
In the eyes of the participants, perhaps it was. The cause for celebration? The promise by the General Assembly’s new leader to remove the state’s cap on charter schools.
The “town hall” gathering was sponsored by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina as the grand finale to its Waiting for Superman tour. PEFNC offered free viewings of the documentary—which highlights the failures of traditional public schools and the successes of charter schools—to nearly 2,000 people across the state.
‘Immoral and Illogical’ System
“I’m haunted by this mental picture of four black students sitting down at a lunch counter in Greensboro [in 1965] demanding to be served,” said Howard Fuller. “And now in 2011, four students sit down at a lunch counter where they are welcome, and they can’t read the menu.”
Fuller, the cofounder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, is regarded as the nation’s most influential African-American spokesman for school choice. As superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School District, he helped implement the first publicly funded school voucher program in the country two decades ago.
“We’ve got to be clear that our children can learn,” he said. “If they’re not learning, it’s not because they’re genetically incapable of learning. It’s because we’ve got them in systems that are not meeting their needs.”
Fuller called it immoral and illogical to continue sending more money to government-run schools, when privately run schools produce better results.
He warned members of the black community that if they continued sending their children to ineffective public schools, there would be another “public institution waiting for them” down the road—prison.
Standardized Tests Criticized
Fuller acknowledged there are public school teachers “who love our children deeply,” but he said their hands are tied because they are trapped in a dysfunctional system.
Kristy Moore, president of the Durham Association of Educators, echoed Fuller’s concern.
“We would love to teach like the charter schools teach,” she said. “We would love to have that freedom.”
Moore said public school teachers often tell her they can’t use teaching methods they know would work better for certain children, because they have to prepare them for standardized tests.
Charters Get Less Funding
Another featured speaker was Peter Groff, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Before working full-time as an advocate for charter schools, Groff was the first African-American president of the Colorado state Senate, where he cosponsored legislation boosting capital funding for charter schools and allowing any public school in the state to terminate its union contract and gain greater autonomy from school district regulations.
Groff noted there are 420,000 students across the country on waiting lists to get into charter schools. He encouraged North Carolina lawmakers in attendance not only to lift the cap on charter schools but also to give them more funding. He said charter schools generally receive about $2,200 less than traditional public schools per student per year.
“Charters have done more with less, but imagine what we could do with the same,” Groff said.
2011 ‘Promising’ for Choice
Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Wake), the House majority leader, said he thinks this will be a promising year for school choice legislation.
Stam said the state Senate is scheduled to take up charter school reform this session and the House will be considering two bills providing tax credits or vouchers for parents who want to send their children to private schools.
Sen. Malcolm Graham (D-Mecklenburg) also spoke about the need to transfer money from state programs like More at Four, the ABCs of Public Education accountability program, and Smart Start to charter schools, which he said have a better track record.
“We cannot do the same thing over and over and over again and expect different results,” Graham said.
Sara Burrows ([email protected]) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal, published by the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, NC, where a version of this article first appeared. Reprinted by permission.