Rev. Dr. Rodney E. Williams, President
NAACP Kansas City, Missouri Branch
Public education has been in a permanent state of crisis since before the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education made Jim Crow segregation unconstitutional. Indeed, public education was born in crisis, at the end of the Civil War in 1865. Prior to that, our people were enslaved, turned into property to be abused by our white owners, but not to be educated and of course without the right to vote. As the pre-eminent scholar W.E.B. DuBois put it in his book Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880, public education only appeared in the South after the Civil War. Freedman had wanted to establish nation-wide system of public schools. Failing that, they built in Southern states public schools were opened to all. In many cases, these children of poor whites unable to previously pay for a private education gladly sat in their schools’ seats side by side with black children.
Those public schools disintegrated as segregation became the law of the land. The 1954 Supreme Court decision did not solve the problem of separate but unequal education. Instead, white families established a widespread system of private schools after 1954. In a number of towns across the South, the entire system of education was shut down for a year, rather than simply open public school for all. In the Kansas City area, the state line and various municipalities outside of Kansas City have served as a safety value for middle class white parents seeking to escape our schools.
For the last several years, charter schools have been touted as an alternative to public schools. The NAACP’s position is that we are not opposed to charter school: we are asking that they are held to the same accountability as traditional schools. In addition, we believe that they drain resources (and students) away from public education and that public funds should not be used to fund private schools. One study of Michigan schools found that the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice are most. Another study found a disproportionate impact on those districts where charters enrolled very high and sustained shares of resident’s students. In short, the bigger the charter schools, the less money and resources for public schools. Rather than allowing money to leave the public school system there should be a deeper investment in low and underperforming public schools.
In 1965 The Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson to overcome barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from voting. More than 50 years later people of color are still experiencing voter suppression. Let us make sure that we fight back by voting in this very important election on April 6, 2021 our future depends on it.