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BAEO’s Ken Campell: Don’t be afraid to note hypocrisy of school choice critics


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.”podcastED-logo

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.

Post-Katrina, New Orleans fundamentally re-made its education system, using parental school choice as a pillar. The results to date have been especially encouraging for black students. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s new, statewide voucher program was targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice last year for allegedly fostering re-segregation. BAEO was a key player in getting DOJ to back off.

“We didn’t think it was a battle that was appropriate for 2103 given what our kids are going through and the challenges that we have,” Campbell said. “And honestly, on some level, I don’t know how you can reduce this to numbers.”

Much of BAEO’s work is in the Deep South, where it has rolled up its sleeves in red states to help bridge political divisions over school choice. But recent developments in blue-state New York may put more wind in its sails. There, a number of Democratic lawmakers are supporting education tax credits that would benefit private school choice. So are a number of labor unions.

“We keep believing … that at some point people will look at (parental school choice) and go, ‘You know what? This is just the right thing to do for kids and families,’ ” Campbell said. “And maybe that’s what’s happening (in New York).”

“When you got security officers, you got the office workers, you got janitors,  you got law enforcement, and you have all these people in New York coming together saying, ‘Hey we support this,’ that’s huge.”

Enjoy the podcast.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at