More than 1,000 North Carolina parents, children, legislators, community leaders, and clergy met to express their desire for more choice in their children’s education in North Carolina at a Raleigh church on March 6.
The two-year-old advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina (PEFNC) sponsored the event, which featured keynote speaker Dr. Howard Fuller, a nationally renowned choice activist who founded the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and helped usher in Milwaukee’s school choice program in 1990.
As superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, Fuller facilitated the transformation of the city’s education system, which now provides more than 17,000 low-income children with vouchers to attend a school of their parents’ choice. In 2000, Fuller founded BAEO, which he currently serves as chairman.
BAEO has chapters in several states working to improve educational options for the nation’s black children.
“The real hurdle [to school choice] is the lack of political will to do what must be done for other people’s children,” Fuller said at the rally. “Every day I see children suffer because we don’t have the political will to change the institutions that continue not to serve them well.”
PEFNC President Darrell Allison said the time is right for school choice in the Tarheel State.
“This is a movement that is building in North Carolina,” Allison said. “Frankly speaking, the turnout literally overwhelmed our staff of volunteers.”
Church buses transported many of the attendees from 20 different counties.
PEFNC’s goal, Allison said, is to replicate the successes of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah in building demand for parental choice.
According to its position statement, “PEFNC hopes North Carolina will also add its name to the list of states that have taken bold steps in providing parents greater freedom to choose and children more options which will improve education for all in our state. PEFNC is committed to help bring this fundamental change to our state by creating greater awareness of the need for parental choice, by serving as a resource for school choice information and by building diverse partnerships to support expanded educational options for North Carolina families.”
One attendee at the rally–a local construction worker–summed up why so many people turned out for it.
“I want to be able to march up to my local failing school,” he said, “and tell the principal that I am pulling my child out and I want my money so I can go someplace else.” This man had never attended any seminars on choice, nor read any books or articles about it. He simply spoke from his heart a hope for self-evident justice.
The defining characteristic of the 95 percent African-American gathering was its spontaneous display of enthusiasm for the idea of choice. It was not your normal (boring) conference of educators. These people had passion, justice, and common sense on their side–and they knew it.
Many large American cities have core populations of black people. Their children, many already victimized by deplorable family and community conditions, are forced to attend crumbling government education warehouses. In all of these communities, there are good people who want the best for their children.
Many of them faithfully attend their community churches–churches that serve as important bases for unification on critical issues. It is in these churches that organizations like PEFNC and BAEO find much of their strength.
Richard G. Neal ([email protected]) writes from North Carolina.