Hispanic pastors from across Florida marked the start of Three Kings Day celebrations today by denouncing a lawsuit they said threatens opportunities for tens of thousands of economically disadvantaged students.
Flanked by camels and children dressed as wise men, the clergy announced a new coalition of more than 100 religious leaders, backed by the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, opposing the lawsuit against Florida’s tax credit scholarships.
The program serves nearly 78,000 low-income students, roughly 38 percent of whom are Hispanic. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships.
Nino Gonzalez, the school superintendent of the Florida Multicultural District of the Assemblies of God, said the suit, filed last year by the Florida Education Association and other groups, threatens the state’s only school choice program aimed solely at students from lower-income families.
“I support school choice because it has given communities the opportunity to create schools that work for their community,” he said during this morning’s press conference. “There are no good reasons for this lawsuit,” he added, “but what a tragedy if it succeeds.”
The Orlando press conference coincides with the traditional Latin American celebration of the twelfth day of Christmas, which falls on Wednesday with festivities beginning today.
It comes as groups that champion civil rights and educational opportunity for children of color debate the merits of school choice, as reported by Politico Florida.
Adora Obi Nweze, president of the state’s NAACP chapter, said the group opposes the scholarship program because Florida’s children do not have equal access to the opportunity.
“All children cannot go to a charter school, or they can’t have a voucher, so you’re picking and choosing,” Nweze said. “And that is a policy we can’t support.”
If only some children have access to an educational program, “that’s not good enough for us,” Nweze said. “That’s a low bar. That’s a real low bar. That is not good enough. It has to be for everybody.”
Denise Vega, the children’s pastor at Iglesia el Calvario and leader of IEC Christian Academy in Orlando, said there should not be a “battle between public schools and private schools.” During Tuesday’s event, she stressed that all children should have access to learning environments that fit their needs.
“Our parents who come to our school, what they’ve found is security,” she said.
Her school serves more than 350 students from diverse backgrounds. The vast majority rely on scholarships to afford tuition. She said many families are drawn to school leaders who can speak their language and understand their culture.
Some students might struggle learning English initially, she said, but her goal is to help them overcome language barriers and “graduate with honors, graduate with aspirations, graduate with a desire to be somebody in this world because we have empowered them.”