African-American legislators in NC voice support for school vouchers and charters

African-American state legislators voiced their support for charter schools and school vouchers at a news conference Tuesday, backing positions espoused most frequently by Republicans.

At the news conference organized by Parents for Educational Freedom, legislators said they support traditional public schools, but that parents should be able to choose the school that works best for their children.

Eight African-American legislators, all Democrats, attended the news conference. Some were long-time charter supporters, while others are newer to the issue.

Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Democrat from Northampton County, said the state should support traditional public schools as well as charters and vouchers.

“The challenge for us is to get away from the either-or and set our hands and tasks to both-and,” she said.

Republicans have long advanced charter schools and vouchers in a free-market approach to education. Republicans pushed to eliminate the 100-school limit on charters when they took over the legislative majority in 2011, and they started the voucher program, worth up to $4,200 a year in taxpayer money to families who meet income guidelines and want to send their children to private or religious schools.

“In the spirit of Black History Month, this coalition understands that in North Carolina you cannot talk about education and education reform without talking about race and politics,” said Rep. Rodney Moore, a Charlotte Democrat. “It is our hope that by uniting together in support for education for all and for all quality educational models, that we begin to bridge the gaps that have far too often hindered us – black versus white students, Democrat versus Republican, traditional schools versus non-traditional schools.”

The national NAACP has called for a pause on charter school expansion. Critics point to research showing charters are more segregated than the traditional public schools around them. The NAACP said charters perpetuate de facto segregation of high-performing students.

Rep. Ed Hanes, a Winston-Salem Democrat, said Winston-Salem’s traditional public schools have already resegregated. “We’re back to a neighborhood school model in the city that has resulted in, frankly, disastrous results for many, many of our students and especially those who are black and brown. That’s just the truth of it.”

Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom, said the goal is to have one-third of Legislative Black Caucus membership join a coalition supporting school choice. The caucus has 37 members. Parents for Education Freedom hosted a lunch meeting for legislators after the news conference.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner