Charging that the public school system has lowered its standards and is preparing minority students “for slow deaths,” former Democratic Congressman Floyd Flake issued a strong call for educational choice when he visited Indianapolis on December 17. While there, he met with over fifty urban pastors, Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, and other community leaders to mobilize supporters of community renewal and educational choice. He also toured Christian Training Academy, a private “safe haven” elementary school operated by the Greater Northeast Baptist Church.
“By offering scholarships to parents of children in poor communities, we are empowering them with the opportunity to choose which setting is best for their children’s educational needs,” explained Flake. “It is unjust to allow students in failing inner-city schools to languish while we wait for the public system to implement their long-awaited reforms.”
Flake, who is pastor of the 9,000-member Allen AME Church in New York City and founder of the 480-student Allen Christian School, was in Indianapolis at the invitation of Gordon St. Angelo, president of the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Flake presented his ideas at Martin University at an event cosponsored by the Foundation and The Institute for Urban Ministries.
Taking aim at programs like special education, which leave students farther behind than ever, Flake challenged his audience of clergy and community members to “make this the last year” that the public school system fails students and parents. He urged them to help restructure the current system or develop alternative schools like the one he established in New York City. Minority children, he said, have the right to receive quality education in a safe environment, including the use of tax-supported vouchers to pay tuition at private or parochial schools.
“People want to talk about the problems of vouchers,” he noted. “We need to talk about the problems of the system.”
Gordon St. Angelo agreed. “Hard-working parents are fed up with the status quo and deserve control over their educational tax dollars,” he said.
Critical of the politics of education reform–where his own party seems more intent on protecting public school teacher jobs than rescuing children from a life of ignorance–Flake said that those who oppose vouchers are missing the real issue, which is the damage that special education, low standards, and lack of choice in the current public school system are doing to minority children.
“When a white person kills a black person, we all go out in the streets to protest,” said Flake. “But our children are being educationally killed every day in public schools and nobody says a thing.”
While in Congress, Flake cosponsored a bill that would provide scholarships for children in poor neighborhoods to attend the public, private, or religious school of their choice. Before resigning from Congress last year, he also supported the Community Redevelopment Act, which included a voucher initiative.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].