It’s an increasingly common refrain: school choice is an extension of the civil rights movement. But two of the choice movement’s elder statesmen took exception to that description at a National School Choice Week event Thursday night.
The civil rights movement was broader than the battle for school choice, and every generation ought to define its own movements, said Howard Fuller, a legend in the choice movement and chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Also, attempting to link the two can create friction and arouse suspicions when it’s used by choice supporters who may not see eye-to-eye on other issues important to civil rights veterans and their supporters.
“Just even using that terminology gets us into arguments that we don’t need to be in,” Fuller said.
T. Willard Fair, a former chairman of the Florida Board of Education, raised another objection: When it comes to school choice, too many black leaders are not on the same page.
“During the civil rights movement, no black elected official dared to stand up and be against this,” said Fair, who co-founded Florida’s first charter school. “If he or she did, we would get them.”
The spirited comments from Fuller and Fair, and polite comebacks from other school choice leaders, came during Florida’s “spotlight” National School Choice Week event. About 200 people attended the event, held at Coral Springs Charter School near Fort Lauderdale. It was organized by the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education, an umbrella group for a wide range of pro-school-choice organizations, including Step Up for Students, which administers the state’s tax credit scholarship program and co-hosts this blog.
The back-and-forth over civil rights and school choice was spurred by the event’s theme. This year is the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared separate schools for black and white students unconstitutional. Many school choice supporters see a connection between the barriers knocked down then and those falling now.