The homeschooling population in the United States is predominantly white and concentrated in suburban or rural areas. In 2016, black children accounted for 8 percent of the 1.7 million homeschooled students nationally, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics. What federal education data don’t show, though, is what’s driving those 136,000 or so black students and their families into homeschooling. Nor do the data reveal the tenacity and tradition that bond this homeschooling movement—a movement that challenges many of the prevailing stereotypes about homeschooling, which tends to be characterized as the province of conservative Christians, public-school opponents, and government skeptics.
For VaiVai and many other black homeschoolers, seizing control of their children’s schooling is an act of affirmation—a means of liberating themselves from the systemic racism embedded in so many of today’s schools and continuing the campaign for educational independence launched by their ancestors more than a century ago. In doing so, many are channeling an often overlooked history of black learning in America that’s rooted in liberation from enslavement. When seen in this light, the modern black homeschooling movement is evocative of African Americans’ generations-long struggle to change their children’s destiny through education—and to do so themselves.
The education reform movement will lose an important voice at the end of this year.
The Black Alliance for Educational Options sent a note to supporters this morning announcing it will “cease operations” after Dec. 31.
The group played a unique role in the school choice movement. It challenged charter and school voucher advocates to give black communities more control over the schools that educated their children. It reminded people that the fight for educational self-determination has been going on for centuries. It advocated accountability measures that proved controversial inside the school choice tent, from regulations in Louisiana’s voucher program to standardized testing for students who use scholarships to attend private schools.
Its leaders, like Howard Fuller, often demanded right-wing politicians target voucher programs at the most disadvantaged students. They helped rally support for the nation’s largest private school choice program when it faced an existential lawsuit, and contributed to the legal fight.
If you want to know why black support is so strong for school choice, talk to black parents and listen to Howard Fuller. In the meantime, read “The State of Education in Black America,” a new report from the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
As we’ve written before, the struggle for educational freedom runs deep in African-American history. But nobody knows and speaks to that better than BAEO, a leader in the fight for 15 years. Its report, released last week, highlights the outrageous academic statistics that backdrop the legions of African-American parents who seek educational options for their children. It also offers plenty of historical nuggets, including a primer beginning on page 31, for anyone who somehow thinks this search is new, or alien, or some kind of ploy:
Black parental choice in America did not begin with the creation of charter schools or publicly funded voucher and tax-credit programs in the 1990s. Black parents’ demand for a quality public education in a non-segregated school did not begin with the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Black adults’ aspirations for higher education did not wait for congressional enactment of the G.I. Bill of Rights in 1944, nor did Black parents wait for systemic school reform with the creation of the federal Department of Education in 1867.
I wish choice critics would consider this history. Would they be so quick to condemn “vouchers” if their frame of reference included Southern slave codes, which made it a crime to teach slaves how to read and write? Would they still insist black choice supporters are being conned if they knew about the Marcus Garvey School in Los Angeles or the Piney Woods boarding school in Mississippi? Would they still see nefarious ties between schools and faith if they knew black churches have always been central to establishing quality schools for African Americans?
The BAEO report includes data on black student performance in charter schools, and in private schools accessed through vouchers and tax credit scholarships. It notes recent stories and research about the rise in black homeschoolers. And it offers advice for those who want to educate others about the need for options for black students: share the report with as many people as possible.
For those with an open mind, it’s there. For everybody else, we’ll press on.
A national organization that fights for the academic needs of black students entered the lawsuit over Florida’s tax credit scholarship today. The group, Black Alliance for Educational Options, filed an amicus brief urging the First District Court of Appeal to reject the state teacher union’s attempt to shut down the scholarship and to affirm a circuit judge’s dismissal of the case.
The brief tracks some of the legal arguments offered by lawyers representing the state and scholarship parents, but its tone is more personal. “BAEO knows from recent history that without high quality educational options such as the FTC scholarships, many of these students would never be in a position to enjoy their full panoply of civil rights – those rights can ring hollow for illiterate black students,” wrote Michael Ufferman, the attorney for BAEO.
The tax credit scholarship, passed into law in 2001, is serving 78,014 low-income schoolchildren this year. Of those, 23,268 are black. Their average household income is $23,551, which is 0.6 percent above poverty. Roughly 54 percent live with only one parent.
The Florida Education Association and other groups filed suit in August 2014, asking the courts to declare the scholarship unconstitutional. Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds dismissed the case on standing in May, ruling the plaintiffs could not show how they or public schools were harmed. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 similarly rejected a challenge to a tax credit scholarship law in Arizona, denying standing, and three other state supreme courts have ruled in favor of the scholarships. None to date has ruled against them.
“If this lawsuit succeeds, the results will be devastating to the nearly 80,000 low-income and working-class, mostly black and Hispanic students who will be kicked out of their schools,” BAEO Policy and Research Director Tiffany Forrester said in a news release. “But it will also be a blow to social justice. Wealthy families have always had choices in education; low-income and working-class families deserve the same.”
BAEO also said in the release it was “very disappointed” the Florida NAACP joined in filing the suit. Two other plaintiffs, the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of School Administrators, have withdrawn since the case was dismissed in circuit court. Meanwhile, a growing number of leading black ministers across the state have joined the cause against the lawsuit, calling themselves the “Florida African-American Ministers Alliance For Parental Choice.”
Earlier this month, attorneys for the state and scholarship families filed response briefs in the First District Court of Appeal. They asked to court to schedule oral arguments for the appeal.
If its import wasn’t apparent already, parental choice leader Howard Fuller said Florida should be a national battleground after the Florida School Boards Association, Florida Education Association and other groups filed suit Aug. 28 to kill the nation’s largest private school choice program.
“First off, we got to fight, and we need to make Florida a national issue,” Fuller, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, told redefinED this week. “It isn’t just a Florida issue. It has to be a national issue, for all of us who care, not just about parental choice as a policy, but care about 70,000 poor kids not having the opportunity to go to the schools of their choice. So we need to become very focused on that.”
The suit is targeting the 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program, which is serving more than 67,000 students this fall. All are low-income, and nearly 70 percent are black or Hispanic. The program is administered by scholarships funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.
Fuller said the suit should be a lesson to school choice supporters that they must be ever vigilant.
“They just told us, we don’t care. We don’t care. And we’re going to continue to try to protect our power,” he said, referring to the plaintiffs.
In the face of a well-funded, organized opposition around the country, the education reform and parental school choice movements need to become more representative of the communities they aim to help.
Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, was not alone in making that case Tuesday at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas.
Kicking off a panel discussion, he pointed to incidents around the country, from the latest skirmish over charter schools in New York City to a short video that he said portrays the rise of an all-charter school district in New Orleans as a “nefarious plan” by outsiders looking to “take over schools.”
“It really gives me the sense that there will be increasing efforts, and I think more sophisticated efforts, to ensure that the vulnerable places that we have in the reform movement can be exploited,” he said.
Campbell said shoring up those vulnerabilities will require the movement to build stronger ties with the low-income and minority communities in which it works, and to give those groups the ability to “jointly own reform.”
Issues of race and representation have often lurked in the background of the movement to expand school choice and equal opportunity in education. Charter school supporters confronted them publicly during several speeches and workshops at the Las Vegas conference.
“We have allowed people who are not representative of the people that we’re serving to control this movement and be the face of this movement,” Jamilah Prince-Stewart, the director of community engagement at ConnCAN, said during the panel Campbell introduced. As a result, she said, it should be no surprise when “the very people that we’re trying to help are not receptive to what we’re delivering.”
Ken Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, has advice for school choice supporters who may be frustrated by critics who distort the evidence and hew to tired arguments.
Call ’em out.
“We have to recognize and not be afraid to call out the level of hypocrisy that exists in a lot of these narratives,” Campbell told redefinED for the podcast interview attached below. “Because honestly, most of the time, the people who are fighting against parent choice are people who have parent choice. They are people who are exercising choices for their kids every day. They are fighting to keep kids in schools that they never in a million years would send their own kids to.”
Campbell continued: What they’re saying is, “If your kids leave, then we might not have the system survive. Now it’s okay if mine leave, but if yours leave … And there’s something about that, Ron, that chills me to my soul when I think about what that argument really says.”
Campbell’s comments come with “the narrative” cranked at full volume in the Florida Capitol. On Tuesday, lawmakers on a second straight House committee voted in favor of a bill to expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the largest private school choice program in the country (and one administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog). But disappointingly, the vote again came along party lines. Democrats voted no, choosing to stand with the Florida PTA and state teachers union instead of the scores of low-income parents, many of them black, who came from all over the state to show support. At one point, Florida PTA President Eileen Segal told lawmakers in support that they were pitting parent against parent. “And it’s sad.”
No one called her out.
Campbell’s comments also come on the eve of BAEO’s annual symposium, the largest gathering of black school choice supporters in the country. This year’s event, which begins Thursday, will bring more than 700 people to New Orleans.
The location isn’t coincidence.
In the 60 years since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the mission to offer every student equal access to a free and quality public education has made great strides. But there’s more work to do, say education advocates gathering this week for National School Choice Week.
More than a dozen groups representing everything choice – from charters to religious schools to district virtual schools – will meet Jan. 30 in Coral Springs, Fla., for a panel discussion reflecting on the historic Supreme Court ruling and whether its vision is being fulfilled.
Brown was an important part of the struggle to end legal discrimination but today “we have a different problem,” longtime school choice supporter Howard Fuller said in an email to redefinED. “Children of low income and working class Black families are trapped in schools that are not providing them with a quality education. Integration is not the lever of power that is needed at this point in history.”
The Florida event is one of 5,500 taking place during the fourth annual celebration of educational opportunity.
Speakers include Fuller, a distinguished professor and board chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options; Georgia Rep. Alisha Morgan, a Democrat and school choice supporter; T. Willard Fair, a civil rights activist and the youngest chapter president in the history of the Urban League; Julio Fuentes, president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options; Rabbi Moshe Matz, director of Agudath Israel of Florida; Vincent Boccard, mayor of the city of Coral Springs; and Jonathan Hage, founder, president, chairman and chief executive officer of Charter Schools USA.
The event is hosted by Florida Alliance for Choices in Education (FACE), a roundtable of school choice and parental empowerment organizations that work to expand and strengthen educational options. Partners include Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (and co-hosts this blog); Florida Charter School Alliance; PublicSchoolOptions.org; Charter Schools USA; Coral Springs Charter School; Florida Virtual School; McKay Coalition; HCREO; Agudath Israel of Florida: StudentsFirst; Pasco eSchool; National Institute for Educational Options; and K12 Inc.
The event will be held at the Coral Springs Charter School, 3205 N. University Drive, Coral Springs, 33065. The reception starts at 5:30 p.m. with the discussion at 6:15 p.m. For more information, email FACE director Wendy Howard, email@example.com
You’ll be able to watch a live webcast of the event here on the blog. You can also follow via Twitter @redefinedonline. Search for #SCW and #FLchoice.