|Rep. Busby (R)|
The most vulnerable, of course, are the poorest districts where test scores mirror the economic disadvantage of children in these districts. Citizens in these "D" and "F" districts would not have a choice in whether or not to allow the corporate apartheid reform schools from taking over the education of their children.
The sticking point now centers on the 50 or so school districts that are rated "Satisfactory," or "C," based on the State's own rating system. The white conservative businessmen of Mississippi want these schools, too, and to do so, they must vote against all that every Dixiecrat since Strom Thurmond has held sacred: local control. They want to make sure that local school districts cannot say NO to the corporate charter chain gangs.
And they also want to make sure the new charter teachers do not get into the state retirement system, and they want white untrained missionaries from TFA to teach these most needy children. Below is part of a story by Sarah Carr at Hechinger Report:
Mississippi lawmaker Kenneth Wayne Jones, a Democrat, briefly became a political pariah last winter when he voted in favor of a proposal to expand charter schools in his state. He was the only African-American state senator to support the bill, which most members of Mississippi’s legislative Black Caucus disavowed. Jones liked the idea of expanded school options for families, but he also understood his colleagues’ mistrust.
“You’ve got conservative Republicans all of a sudden showing a lot of concern about the education of African-American children, while in the same breath they are denying them health care,” Jones said.
This winter, charter supporters will make their fifth attempt in five years to bring charters to Mississippi, one of a dwindling number of states without a real charter school law. (The state has an existing law so restrictive that no charters have opened.)
But the deep-rooted skepticism of the state’s black leadership remains one of the biggest obstacles to bipartisan support for charters in Mississippi and throughout the South, where powerful white Democrats are adisappearing breed. It also speaks to broader mistrust among black officials nationwide—particularly those who came of age before or during the civil rights movement—toward contemporary school reform efforts they believe are being imposed by outsiders on low-income, minority communities.
“White people cannot tell us what’s best for educating our children,” said State Sen. David Jordan, a 78-year-old African American from the Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood. “Heck, we did it for decades without even the money for books. Through the help of God we made it.”
Similar tensions have emerged in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, where veteran black politicians and venerable civil rights organizations like the NAACP have been among the most vociferous opponents of recent education reforms. Those changes include the expansion of charter schools, the recruitment of out-of-town educators through programs like Teach For America, and the weakening of job protections for teachers.
In Mississippi, which has the nation’s highest rate of childhood poverty and posts some of the weakest test scores, there’s particular urgency to improving the schools. Advocates of charters believe the autonomous schools will help boost the state’s abysmal academic performance. They say they can learn from mistakes made in other states to ensure Mississippi’s charter law is exemplary.
Critics counter that the state needs to focus on fully funding the schools it already operates and create a desperately needed pre-kindergarten program before it looks to alternatives like charters. They also worry that the charter movement will be hijacked by virtual schools and for-profit companies hoping to profit off of Mississippi’s children.
The support of the Black Caucus likely won’t be crucial to passing a new charter school law in Mississippi, though. Republicans control both houses of the legislature, some Democrats support charters, and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who is white, has made the issue one of his top priorities. (Last year’s bill failed largely because a few key Republicans didn’t support it.)
But the Caucus’ response will be a litmus test for whether black leaders are growing more receptive—or more resistant—to the reforms that are steadily reshaping public education across America.
The debate over school reform doesn’t always fall neatly along racial lines. President Barack Obama has embraced charters and other controversial changes. Black leaders like Howard Fuller in Milwaukee and Geoffrey Canada in New York City are among the most outspoken and prominent supporters of radical changes to the traditional public school structure. And, as the divide between Jones and Jordan illustrates, not all members of Mississippi’s Black Caucus are united in full-throated opposition to charters.
But in Mississippi and elsewhere, charter and reform backers have often struggled to win over civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as a majority of black lawmakers and voters.
In Washington D.C., for instance, former mayor Adrian Fenty lost his re-election bid in 2010 at least partly because middle-class black voters were frustrated with the hard-charging style of his schools chief, Michelle Rhee. She not only supported charters but also aggressively pushed to close low-performing schools and fire struggling teachers. In New Orleans, thousands of educators lost their jobs in the lead up to the rapid chartering of the city’s schools after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The move left many of the city’s predominantly black veteran educators feeling disenfranchised and suspicious of the changes. And in New York City, NAACP leader Hazel Dukes underscored her organization’s intense disdain for charters when she accused a parent who supported them of “doing the business of slave masters.”
The racial tensions surrounding school reform have complicated origins. Mississippi State Sen. Jordan, a retired public-school science teacher, said he fears charters partly because they could bring more white out-of-state educators to Mississippi who won’t be able to relate to the children there. “Teachers who come in claim they can do a yeoman’s job,” he said. “But I don’t think someone can come from Illinois and do a better job with the kids of the Mississippi Delta than the teachers who are already here.”
Jordan also worries that charters could mean a loss of black power and leadership in rural communities where the black community fought long and hard to claim top positions in the schools. In the Delta town of Indianola, for example, the black community staged a lengthy boycott of white businesses in order to get the first African-American school superintendent appointed in 1986.
“If you go to another model, people are not going to hire African Americans in the top positions,” said Jordan. “The bottom line is to eliminate African Americans.”
In the Mississippi Delta, nearly 90 percent of the public-school children are black, and school districts are one of the few sources of stable jobs.
“In rural counties, the school districts are the main employer,” said Mike Sayer, senior organizer atSouthern Echo, a black leadership organization based in Jackson that opposes charters. “If these school districts go down altogether, it will have a crippling effect. In a lot of these communities there are no other places to work.”. . . .