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Minorities seek Charter School options in Mississippi
Democratic racial claims of charter schools proven wrong in early efforts

by Frank Corder
Democrats in Mississippi dug in their heels against charter schools for years claiming they were for education reform, just not that kind of reform. They consistently refused to discuss any innovation outside of their comfort zones, mostly out of fear of losing their sacred fiefdoms, all while requesting more funds be thrown at failing districts as if money alone would solve the ills.

Little was attempted under Democratic leadership in the Legislature that would rock the boat of their longtime supporters and advocates in the superintendents' association, The Parents Campaign and other politically friendly education groups.

Many of the Democratic opponents of charter schools were minorities or representatives from minority districts. Some said such a measure as charter schools would bring back segregation or strip majority-minority districts of their funding in favor of more white schools.

The intense racial claims in the charter school debate made national headlines in a story rightly titled, "Racial divide seen in Mississippi debate over charter schools, reform." Sen. David Jordan (D) scored a quote in the story when he said, "White people cannot tell us what's best for educating our children."

So given such vitriolic criticisms, what has transpired since the Mississippi Legislature passed charter schools is quite interesting.

It now appears that a good many of the early charter school advocates have been both rural and urban minority leaders in areas that have been left wanting for positive, effective educational options for decades. In fact, there have been several articles recently that have highlighted leaders in the black community that are taking on charter school initiatives. "Our citizens have been watching and reading the newspaper, and they've come to the conclusion that if we want to improve our school and town, we must have a system for it," (Tony) Duckworth said in a Clarion Ledger piece. "People are coming to me, some of them former educators who fought for education improvements, and applauding my effort. People who were once against it are coming to me and telling me they are proud I want to do this."

Not surprisingly, neither the editorial pages nor the news pages have drawn the connection that the people most vehemently against charter schools are those that said that charter schools would be most detrimental to the black community. As usual, they just get a pass.

At a recent "How to start a charter school" conference, in the neighborhood of 75% of the attendees were black. The interest level was high with many actively seeking solutions to their educational woes. These ground level supporters of this education reform measure are working alongside the newly formed Mississippi Charter School Association to ensure charter schools are implemented properly and in the areas of most need.

It should be noted that the groups who helped form the Mississippi Charter School Association are the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, Mississippi First, Better Education for Mississippi, and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national advocacy group whose aim is to "increase access to high quality education options for Black children by actively supporting transformational education reform initiatives and parental choice policies that empower low-income and working-class Black families."

Minority charter school advocates in places like Clarksdale, Greenville, Mt. Olive, Natchez and yes, even Jackson are forming coalitions seeking to implement charters, many of these concerned parents who want a better education for their children.

And why wouldn't they?

Each of these districts have a majority of low performing schools with many on academic watch based on the Mississippi Department of Education's own ratings.

But it was representatives in these very districts who voted against charter schools and thought that parents in their own communities were not capable enough to take the initiative for educating their children, officials such as Rep. Robert Johnson (D), Rep. David Baria (D), Rep. Willie Bailey(D), Rep. John Hines (D), Rep. Clara Burnett (D), Rep. Rufus Straughter (D), Rep. Brad Oberhousen (D), Rep. Earle Banks (D), Rep. Cecil Brown (D), Rep. Kimberly Buck (D), Rep. Credell Calhoun (D), Rep. Alyce Clarke (D), Rep.Mary Coleman (D), Rep. Jim Evans (D), Sen. Derrick Simmons (D), Sen. David Blount (D), Sen. Hillman Frazier (D), Sen. John Horhn (D), Sen. Sollie Norwood (D), and Sen. Robert Jackson (D) among others.

Ultimately, it appears that the Democratic objections to charter schools were more about self-preservation than children, status quo than advancement. The opposition to this reform was unfounded during debate and is proven wrong even now if early efforts by concerned minority leaders is any indication.

Perhaps Democrats would be better served by actually speaking with constituents instead of thinking they know best and resorting to the low hanging fruit of racial inequality claims in Mississippi political debate, especially when it comes to dealing with our state's children and their future.


Posted July 19, 2013 - 6:00 pm

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