Fighting for school choice ‘on every frontier’: Q & A with Ken Campbell

Travis Pillow

Ken Campbell headshot

Late last month, the Black Alliance for Educational Options announced Ken Campbell will step down after five years as president of the organization, where he has served in various leadership roles since its founding. Jacqueline Cooper, BAEO’s chief of staff, will be filling in as president while the organization prepares a national search for a new leader.

In the meantime, we caught up with Campbell via a spokeswoman to ask him about what lies ahead and about the he’s seen in the education reform movement during his tenure.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be supporting BAEO until the National Symposium in late March, and my focus right now is on helping facilitate a smooth transition. Other than that, I’m taking a little time to recharge to get ready for the next challenge.

Over your tenure, do you think the tenor of the school choice and education reform has changed? Does it better reflect the voices of low-income and working-class black communities it’s trying to reach, or has it slid backward in some ways?

I do think the tenor of parental choice and education reform has changed in a number of ways. First, we continue to mature as a movement, and we continue to grow each year as states adopt new programs and pass new legislation that focuses on reform in a comprehensive way. We are giving parents more options in places where they are most needed.

However, I think we still have a lot of work to do to level the playing field for our most vulnerable citizens – children from low-income and working class Black families. We need to accelerate the work on increasing the number of high quality educational options available to them, and we need to ensure we stay true to our principles about equity for all children.

I am worried that many Black community stakeholders who should be on our side helping to drive reform are either joining the opposition or standing on the sidelines because they feel like their concerns about the way reform is being implemented are being ignored or because they have no power to help implement the change.

So, I think we must place efforts to authentically engage the Black community more broadly in conversations about education reform higher on our list of priorities. If we are going to sustain the progress we’ve made and continue to grow our efforts over the long haul, we must ensure the people we are trying to help have a voice in shaping and leading the reform efforts in their communities.

Now, more than ever, we need to increase efforts to identify and support Black education reform leaders, like Kaya Henderson in DC, who are on the front lines driving change in their communities; we deeper investments in high-quality Black-led schools of choice; and we need deeper investments in organizations like BAEO that are organizing parents and other community stakeholders in support of reform.

Just last week BAEO helped organize a major rally for school choice in Alabama, one of the last remaining holdouts among states that don’t allow charter schools. What do you see as the next frontiers for progress in the school choice movement?

BAEO understands that we must be willing to fight for the changes our community needs. That means we must organize our families so that at critical points in time, we are ready to march, rally, or take other public action to demonstrate with real clarity, just how critical and urgent this issue is for our children. Having more than 2,500 people – most of them Black – come together to stand up for their right to have access to a high-quality education in Alabama was huge.

I believe we should watch Alabama closely this year, as I think the chances of getting a strong charter school law passed there are very good. I’m also very optimistic that we’ll get a voucher bill passed in Tennessee. And, I don’t think it will happen this year, but we soon will have a good charter school law in Kentucky. Our children need us to continue to fight for them on every frontier of this movement.

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