By Manny Otiko and Tanu Henry California Black Media
At least three local branches of the NAACP in southern California – Riverside County, San Bernardino County and San Diego County – have broken ranks with the state chapter and the national organization, distancing themselves from the organization’s support of a moratorium on charter schools in California and across the country.
The three NAACP chapters are calling into question the official NAACP position on a charter moratorium. The branches are located in counties that are home to some of the largest populations of African Americans according to census data.
There are over 30 NAACP branches in California according to the NAACP web site.
This week, the San Bernardino chapter rushed to submit a pro-charter school resolution to the Baltimore national office of the NAACP ahead of a May 1 deadline. Although organizational rules prevent a local branch from building programs or campaigns around a resolution until it is approved by the national office, John Futch, who was elected president of the San Bernardino branch late last year, says he is ready to begin working on the issue.
“I support charter schools,” he said. “It is important for us to recognize the work they are doing to improve education for children in our communities. It is not looking good right now in terms of kids performing poorly and dropping out.”
In its resolution, the San Bernardino branch of the NAACP did not directly state that it had a difference of opinion with the California state chapter or national body. Instead, the branch officers pointed out their own reasons for supporting school choice in the state and pushing for “quality education for all African-American children.”
“The academic performance of African-American students must be the sole determinant of school district decision making rather than the financial benefit that a school district derives from public school funding generated by African-American students,” the statement read.
The resolution also pointed out that there is a “severe and persistent African-American achievement gap throughout the state of California” in both English language arts and Math. And that 8 out of 10 African-American students in California attend district-run public schools that continue to underperform on statewide tests.
In an email obtained by CBM, Thursday evening, Alice Huffman, a member of the national board and the President of NAACP California Hawaii Conference, sent an email to the dissenting branch officers asking them to walk back their statements.
“This is to advise you all regarding your charter school counter resolution,” her email read. “The state has already taken a position of opposition and would appreciate it if you all would rescind your positions.
The difference of opinion on school choice within the ranks of the NAACP reflects a growing divide among Californians on the issue as well.
Four charter school bills – three in the Assembly and one in the Senate – are making their way through the legislative process. The Senate Education Committee voted for last week to pass the most recent charter school bill, SB 756, which calls for a 5-year moratorium on certifying new charter schools in the state. Then, last month, the Assembly education committee cleared three other charter school bills – AB 1505, 1506 and 1507. Together, the package of bills would put a cap on the growth of the independently-run public schools, take away their appeal rights and empower local school boards, which are frequently unsupportive of charter schools, to approve or deny their applications for certification and renewal.
“The local branches are out of step with the state and national organization,” a spokesperson for the California Chapter of the NAACP told CBM.
The California state chapter of the NAACP supported all four charter school bills, arguing that charter schools promote segregation and undermine the historical fight to desegregate public education in the United States.
“The California NAACP and other community-based activists have called upon education reforms to refocus on inequities rather than privatization and private control of education. They are seeking to move the discourse concretely from choice to equity,” said Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Education chair of the California NAACP.
Christina Laster is a charter school mom and grandma – and a former district-run public school employee who now serves as Education Chair of the South Riverside branch of the NAACP. She says she also opposes the NAACP national organization’s decision to support a moratorium on charter schools.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there about charter schools,” said Laster. It is important to look at how this issue is impacting Black families based on the data. We need to move in a direction that supports Black families and what is best for Black children.”
Laster says she is ready defend her oppositional stance to the national body of her organization. She says many of the issues she experienced with racism, feeling unsupported and unwelcome, still persist today in public high schools in Riverside County, where her children go to school.
In 2016, the national board of the NAACP voted to ratify a national moratorium on charter schools. All 12 members of California’s Black Legislative Caucus (CLBC), at the time, wrote a letter to the NAACP asking them to reconsider that decision.
“It should be noted that California’s Charter Schools serve many African American, Latino, Pacific Islanders and low income students,” the letter stated. The CLBC letter also pointed out that African-American charter school students in California have a higher rate of acceptance (19 percent) to the University of California system than traditional public schools (11 percent).
In the state legislature as well as in communities across the state, the school choice debate seems to be shaping up as one of the biggest battles that will play out in California over the next few months. On one side, there is the California Teachers Association (CTA), one of the largest unions in the state and large civil rights organizations like the NAACP officially supporting the proposed restrictions of charter schools. On the other, there is a growing group of charter school advocates, including parents, community groups, churches and grassroots organizations like the National Action Network coming out in strong and vocal support of California families’ option to choose where they want their children to go to school.
Charter school operators and school choice advocates are concerned the set of proposals in the legislature would, eventually, lead to the complete elimination of charter schools in the state and undo all the progress they have made since California signed its charter school law in 1992.