(Guest Post by Brian Kisida)
It’s truly a sad situation when once respectable organizations become so intertwined with the corrupting influence of party politics and the ulterior motives of other interest groups that they abandon their core principles. Last week Matt referenced the newly invigorated war against charter schools in New York undertaken by the NAACP. Also last week in Milwaukee the ACLU filed yet another lawsuit against a school choice program.
On the surface, the NAACP’s ongoing opposition to school choice just seems bizarre. The overwhelming majority of school choice programs in the U.S., whether it be in the form of urban charter schools or means-tested voucher programs like those found in Milwaukee and D.C., serve distinctly minority and disadvantaged populations by design. If there’s a rational argument out there that can explain why the NAACP, according to its own principles, should stand in opposition to school choice, I haven’t heard it. And I’ve done plenty of searching.
But the NAACP supported rally that was held down in Harlem last week does provide the necessary connect-able dots to at least consider their motives. Who was there? Well, New York City Council member Robert Jackson spoke out against charter schools, and he invoked the long hard plight of the NAACP’s battle against discrimination in the process:
“NAACP has stood for over 100 years to fight discrimination. And we stand united, right here on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard to say we will fight all people, all people, that want to discriminate against us or our children.”
Of course, he failed to mention that before he became a council member in 2001, he was a Director of Field Services for the New York State Public Employees Federation. And, while it may be unfair for me to insinuate that his close ties to public employee unions motivate his opposition to school choice, it isn’t unfair to say that his claims are fundamentally false. Charter schools are open to all students, regardless of residential location. By definition, freely chosen charter schools are less discriminatory than residentially-assigned schools. Unless, somehow, you think a randomly chosen lottery ball is capable of discriminating.
Also in attendance was United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. He also played the equity card:
“The children from the charter school will get the science labs, and not the children from the public school…the children from the charter school will get the playground, and not the children from the public school.”
Of course, charter schools are public schools, and they are open to all students who apply. Moreover, if Mulgrew really thinks that charter schools are so superior to “public” schools, then wouldn’t the proper thing to do–if one really cared about giving every child the best education possible–be to make every school a charter school? Then they’d all get the science labs and new playgrounds, right?
I imagine this is how organizations like the NAACP will inevitably die. They become so resistant to change and so corrupted by bad influences that eventually they become irrelevant. The NAACP is squandering what little credibility it has left by opposing policies that are near and dear to the hearts of the people who should be their core constituents. So it goes.
Up in Milwaukee, the ACLU is also doing its best to betray its own principles by fighting the expansion of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Like the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union is no friend of school choice. Their own director, way back in 1994, agreed that school vouchers, if properly administered, were no more a violation of the First Amendment than were Pell Grants (which means they aren’t a violation at all). But in the ensuing years, the ACLU has become one of the most vocal opponents of expanding individual liberty through school choice. And it’s not exactly clear why. At the very least, it’s worth noting that the word “liberty” doesn’t regularly appear in any of the ACLU’s public statements against school choice.
Last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit claiming that the MPCP discriminates against children with disabilities and asked the Department of Justice to delay Governor Walker’s planned expansion of the program. To make their case, they cite flawed statistics generated by the politically minded state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that claim that nearly 20% of students in Milwaukee’s public schools have a disability, but only 1.6% of the students in the MPCP have the same condition.
Of course, the claim is misguided in multiple ways. Independent research by Patrick Wolf from the University of Arkansas and John Witte from the University of Wisconsin does confirm an asymmetry with regard to disabled students, but not nearly as high as the one claimed by DPI and the ACLU. In their analysis, they concluded that:
“Public schools have both strong incentives to classify students as requiring exceptional education, because they receive extra funding to teach such students and well-established protocols for doing so. Private schools have neither. A student with the same educational needs often will be classified as exceptional education in MPS but not so classified in the choice program.”
“Nine percent of choice parents said their child has a learning disability, compared to 18% of the parents of the carefully matched public school students in our sample. The proportion of students with learning disabilities in the choice program is about half that of MPS, but it is certainly not less than 1%, as the state Department of Public Instruction recently reported.”
In addition, the lawsuit brought by the ACLU completely ignores the funding disparity that exists between Milwaukee public schools and the voucher program. Currently, students in Milwaukee’s public schools receive more than $15,000 in per-pupil funding, while students in the choice program receive $6,442. If the ACLU were truly concerned about the liberties of disabled students and their families, wouldn’t it make the most sense to argue for an increase in the voucher amount for disabled students? Wouldn’t that be the most liberty-maximizing course of action?
Like the NAACP, the ACLU has veered far from its own principles as an organization whose stated purpose is to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country.” And, like the NAACP, it’s largely because they’ve sold out. They’ve gone from being an organization founded on certain principles to being simply another political hack-unit heavily influenced by party politics and the agendas of other interest groups. Unless they can find a way to change, they’ll continue to slide towards complete and total irrelevance.