School choice: an extension of the civil rights movement

Ron Matus
Rev. Matthews

Rev. Matthews

The Rev. H.K. Matthews, 84, was beaten by white police in Selma, jailed more than 35 times and blacklisted from jobs for not backing down. So when he says expanding school choice and civil rights go hand in hand, his words carry the weight of someone who’s been there. The west Florida icon sees no inconsistency in an agenda that puts support for vouchers, tax credit scholarships and charter schools on the same list as protesting police brutality, integrating lunch counters and ensuring equal opportunity in the work place.podcastED logo

“It has always been my contention that if a parent felt that his or her or their child was not being adequately educated in one school in the public school system, that they should have the opportunity or the choice of moving that child to a school where it would be more beneficial,” Matthews said in the redefinED podcast attached below. “If you’re being forced to keep your child in a school where he or she is not learning, that is doing nothing but crippling that child.”

As the nation pauses today to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., we thought redefinED readers and listeners should hear from Matthews. Now living in Alabama, he is a diehard for Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and Step Up For Students, which administers the program and co-hosts this blog. In 2010, when more than 5,000 students and parents marched in Tallahassee for an expansion of the program, Matthews was in the front row.

Rev. Matthews was among more than 5,000 people who rallied in Tallahassee in 2010 to support school choice. He's in the front row on the left, walking with a cane.

Rev. Matthews was among more than 5,000 people who rallied in Tallahassee in 2010 to support school choice. He’s in the front row on the left, walking with a cane.

He remains an activist for other causes, too. Last month, he participated in a “rally for justice” stemming from the controversial arrest of a 27-year-old mom in a Wal-Mart. And in 2011, members of the Occupy movement asked him for advice. They gathered around him as he offered this nugget: “They said I was an agitator. But if you look at a washing machine, it’s the agitator in the middle that gets all the dirt out.”

Here are some highlights from the podcast:

On what Dr. King might think of school choice: “Knowing him as I knew him, and knowing his desire and his fire for people having a right to choose, my feeling is he would support school choice. Because he was always for the rights of individuals. Not barring any particular race, not barring any particular origin or religion. But he just felt that people should have a right, I think, to be free, to express themselves, and to go where they wanted to go. And to go to places that would be more beneficial to them.”

On what he thinks of public schools: “There are some kids that can thrive in public schools and a bunch of them, a lot of them, do. Because if it were not for that, we wouldn’t have public schools. I mean, public schools are not bad institutions. That’s not what I’m saying. But I am saying neither are charter schools, or private schools, if they do what they are designed to do. And that is to provide adequate education for kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks in public schools.”

On why the NAACP opposes school choice: “I was not in a position to really, really, fully support school choice until I got involved with Step Up For Students. And then my eyes were opened to what was going on around us with some of these kids falling through the cracks in some of these public schools. … I want to believe that maybe they (NAACP leaders) do not fully grasp the importance or the benefits that are being offered by school choice.”

On what skeptical progressives should do: “Become familiar with the program and the benefit that it offers. I think they should not take things at face value. They should study it and realize that there is nothing that’s bad about school choice. Again, it’s beneficial to those students who might otherwise not be able to get a good education.”

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