NAACP opposes school vouchers, state takeover of failing systems Convention stops short of taking position against charter schools

July 17, 1997|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- The NAACP voted yesterday to oppose school voucher plans and state takeovers of poorly performing school districts, but it stopped short of condemning charter schools.

The 88th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been marked by frustration with the continuing gap in achievement between white and black students, but also by suspicion of education reform efforts.

A proposed resolution to oppose voucher plans and charter schools provoked a spirited debate on the convention floor.

It passed only after it was amended to delete mention of charter schools.

Voucher plans that redirect public money to private schools were widely opposed, from NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to the rank and file of the nation's largest civil rights group.

Such plans generally give parents credits they may apply to tuition at schools of their choice.

"We must always remember that public education is the reason that many of us are here," said Leroy W. Warren Jr., an NAACP national board member from Silver Spring. "What vouchers will do for us is destroy public education and black people will suffer more and more."

He urged black parents to improve their schools by getting involved with their local PTAs.

But charter schools, which are financed by public school districts but run by other groups, were viewed more positively.

"If we were doing so well in public schools, we wouldn't have this dTC resolution," said Ernestine Taylor, a delegate from Red Bank, N.J., and a retired teacher.

"I'm against vouchers but for charter schools because we need some kind of competition."

Jerome W. Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, called charter schools "an avenue worth trying."

"Middle-class children have a choice," Mondesire said on the convention floor.

"We need to give a choice to African-American and Latino children who do not have the means."

State takeovers of school districts were debated briefly before the NAACP passed a resolution opposing them.

Elaine C. Harrington, president of the New Jersey NAACP, called state intervention in often majority-black districts a "plantation mentality."

But Taylor, the New Jersey teacher, called takeovers a needed "last option" for schools that are failing to educate children.

"Anybody who says don't let the state take over, you will continue to have a downward spiral [in school performance] all over the country," she said.

George Springer, vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised the vote against takeovers.

Teachers unions are strongly represented within the NAACP.

"There is no evidence that schools that are taken over end up doing better jobs for students," he said. "How is the state of Maryland taking over Baltimore schools? It's good politics.

"Five or 10 years down the road, if it doesn't work, the mayor and governor probably won't be there and the kids won't be better off."

The NAACP also passed, without debate, resolutions supporting affirmative action for black farmers and a military appeals board to review discrimination complaints. It reaffirmed support for a commission to study reparations for slavery.

The delegates tabled a vaguely worded resolution on the teaching of English for fear that it might be interpreted as an endorsement of using Ebonics, or black English, in the classroom.

The convention ends today after an address by President Clinton.

Pub Date: 7/17/97

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