Leading black ministers in Florida are ramping up criticism of the NAACP for supporting a lawsuit that seeks to kill the nation’s largest private school choice program.
The Rev. Dr. Manuel Sykes, pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, became the latest to do so, suggesting during a “radio rally” in Tampa Bay today that the esteemed civil rights organization was stuck in the past.
“While they’re fighting the old fight of integration versus segregation, our children are falling through the cracks. And in this issue, I believe they’re on the wrong side,” said Sykes, former president of the NAACP branch in St. Petersburg. “So at this point, we’re out here to advocate for and inform our African-American community that this (school choice) is something they need to support. Because while everyone is fighting on the top levels, it’s our children that’s at stake.”
At issue is the lawsuit filed last August by the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association, the Florida branch of the NAACP and other groups. It argues the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students is akin to the state’s first K-12 voucher program, which the Florida Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2006. Both sides are awaiting a ruling from Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds on whether the plaintiffs have standing to continue.
The scholarship program is administered by non-profits such as Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post. This year, the program serves 70,000 students statewide, including more than 20,000 black students.
Sykes was president of the local NAACP until last summer, when state NAACP officials forced his ouster after he appeared at a rally opposing the lawsuit. He did not criticize the NAACP or note his ties during that event, but did not hold back today.
“Groups like the NAACP, as sad as it is to say, they fought for desegregation because they believed that the quality of education of black children would be increased. However, the statistics show it’s gone in the opposite direction,” Sykes said. “And now they are struggling with the idea of the same people they fought for having the choice to take their business elsewhere. Any restaurant, any bank, any institution that does not offer you the services that you need, you have the right to move. But they’re telling us, sort of like the Pharaoh said, ‘I’m not going to let your people go.’ ” Continue Reading →