Elected black Democrats who support vouchers and charter schools are slowly but surely finding themselves less isolated. And for that, they can thank relentless parents, said Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
The tide is changing because of “this constant drumbeat that they’re hearing from parents about how much their kids are struggling,” Campbell told redefinED in the podcast interview attached below. “More and more people are just coming to this realization that even if I don’t necessarily like the people that are proposing this, we don’t have any other options. And we’ve heard that time and time again, as we’ve gone out and worked with elected officials – that we can’t ignore the pleas of our parents anymore.”
Campbell offered his comments on the eve of BAEO’s annual symposium, which is being held today through Saturday in Orlando. The largest gathering of black school choice supporters in the country will draw 650 people this year, including 50 current and former elected officials. It comes amidst head-spinning ferment on the choice front, with states as disparate as Louisiana, Washington and New Hampshire passing historic measures in the past year alone.
“There are a lot of people in our community who are rightfully concerned and skeptical about motives, and about is this the right thing to do,” Campbell said. “But I think increasingly, we have reached the point where there’s no excuse for not acting with urgency in giving kids and parents options.”
BAEO has been a leading voice for parental school choice since it formed in 2000. Its ranks include a number of leading reformers, including Howard Fuller, Kevin Chavous and T. Willard Fair, who co-founded the first charter school in Florida and served as chair of the state Board of Education.
Florida is an apt place for the group to meet.
It is second only to Georgia in the number of black students in K-12 (with more than 600,000). It’s a national leader in expanding school choice. And it’s where, in 2010, two thirds of the Democratic Black Caucus supported a major expansion of the state’s tax credit scholarship program. (The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)
Campbell said other dynamics are giving breathing room to black elected officials. President Obama’s embrace of charter schools is a plus, he said. So is the increasingly hard-to-ignore fact that growing numbers of teachers and principals are, like parents, opting for alternative learning environments.
“So many of them have great stories about how opposed they were to charter schools, or about how opposed they were to various types of school choice proposals. And then they get involved with it, and they see the freedom, they see the real rich relationships they can build with kids and what they’re able to do with them,” Campbell said. “And all of a sudden, they become some of our biggest allies. They are folks who say, ‘I will never go back. I wish we had done this 20 years ago.’ “