The NAACP's fight against private school vouchers

Posted: May 15, 2006 12:05 AM

Why would an organization that calls itself the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose motto is "Making Democracy Work Since 1909," oppose individual choice and freedom and dedicate itself to promoting public policy that guarantees the perpetuation of black poverty?

As incongruous as this might sound, it is in fact true.

Consider the prominent role that the NAACP played recently in killing the Opportunity Scholarships Program created by Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida, which granted vouchers to students in failing public schools to attend a different school of their choice - public or private.

As soon as the program got underway, the NAACP joined the unions to challenge its constitutionality under Florida law. The challenge was upheld in divided court decisions up through Florida's Supreme Court.

Governor Bush attempted to salvage the program through a proposed amendment to the State constitution; however, this was narrowly defeated in the Florida Senate two weeks ago.

During the past school year, 740 students participated in the Opportunity Scholarship Program, of which 64 percent were black and 30 percent Hispanic. The students are practically all from low-income families.

So why would the NAACP work to kill a program that gives low income minority kids a chance to get a good education at a private school?

"Vouchers siphon off money from public education," according to the president of the NAACP's New York Chapter.

But, of course, vouchers do not siphon off money from the public school system. However, they do cause the public school system to compete for those funds. Vouchers shift power to parents from bureaucrats.

Here, as elsewhere, NAACP leadership automatically equates big government with black interests.

The public school monopoly serves the black community so notoriously poorly that many blacks themselves poll in favor of vouchers.

The GAO reported in 2004 that there are almost three million kids nationwide in schools failing by No Child Left Behind criteria. These are disproportionately poor black kids. Half of these kids do not graduate and the ones that do, graduate with eighth grade reading skills.

So what's going on here? You would think that NAACP leaders would be rabid in pushing for change and opening new educational opportunities available for black children. Yet, they doggedly defend a proven and hopeless failed status quo.

The need for school choice for black kids goes beyond the argument for efficiency and competition. The education problem in the black community is really a social, moral and family problem.

One black mother supporting vouchers in Florida testified about why it is important to her to have the opportunity to send her child to a religious school. "I make sure her religious values are coming from home ... Then when my child steps out of my home and into this institution, she's receiving the same thing. That's consistency."

It is crucial that poor black kids, coming overwhelmingly from single parent homes and from communities where promiscuity and out-of-wedlock births are commonplace, have the opportunity to attend schools where traditional values and character building are part of the curriculum.

A religious education cannot be forced and should not be forced on any American kid. But denying parents, particularly the ones that need it most, the opportunity to choose a religious school for their child is blatantly un-American.

In a recent column, Edward Lazear, the chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, noted, "Half of those who are in poverty escape that status within three years. One-fifth of those in the bottom quarter of the income distribution move up within a year."

Yet, despite the fact that escaping poverty is a routine occurrence in America, pockets of black poverty persist generation after generation.

At the heart of the problem is the failure to educate black children. And despite this clear failure, the NAACP fights change because change would challenge government control and would shift responsibility directly into our own communities and families.

Let's again recall Einstein's definition of insanity as repeating the same behavior but expecting different results.

Yes, it is incongruent that the nation's oldest civil rights organization opposes the right of black parents to choose where to send their child to school. And it is incongruent that those who celebrate a civil rights movement that was led by a black pastor insist that black children be trapped in schools where it is prohibited to teach Christian values.

Maybe one day the NAACP will wake up and recall that its mission is supposedly to expand not limit opportunities for black Americans.