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
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.
(Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education
(www.urbancure.org) and author of the new book, “White Ghetto: How Middle Class
America Reflects Inner City Decay.”)