August 3, 2020

More than 100 pastors tell legislators to stop attacks on school choice

Black, brown, young, old, and everything in between; they came to tell lawmakers they want their children to have every opportunity to learn.

It was 100-plus pastors standing shoulder to shoulder in the rotunda of Florida’s state capital building last week. They were united by what they saw as attacks on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship – a program that offers a tax break to donors who support nonprofits that award scholarships for low-income students to enroll in private schools.

Just by showing up they refuted the single most tired talking point public employees use to scare voters out of supporting school choice policies.

It’s billionaires, not marginalized community members, who think scholarships to private schools is a hot idea.

Even though research says otherwise, teachers unions fund constant communications efforts that frame the fight for school choice as a policy battle between grassroots defenders of public education (who only want to preserve the public’s schools) and the cigar-smoking corporate fatcats who fund campaigns to “destroy” America’s most vital child-serving institutions.

That purposefully dishonest frame is powerful in that it insulates our current education system from a valid critique while also villainizing anyone who dares challenge the system. Who would want to be on the side of moneyed destroyers of public institutions? Not me.

But, while public school employees use their massive publicly-funded, privately-managed labor war chests to focus attention on their policy enemies, those of us with children poorly served by the system need alternative heroes in the debate. Preferably that means eople who see our issues and commit to bringing the needs of our families into focus.

Along those lines, my friends at redefinED have a blog post about the coalition of pastors in Florida is doing just that:

Members of the Florida African American Ministers Alliance for Parental Choice said the attacks threaten to evict tens of thousands of low-income, mostly black and Hispanic students from the schools their parents chose for them. At issue, they said, are efforts by two state representatives, Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, and Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, to persuade corporate donors to end their contributions to the scholarship program that serves more than 100,000 lower-income students, three-quarters of whom are students of color.

Among the speakers was the Rev. Robert Ward, pastor of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg.

“These politicians are recklessly harming our innocent and vulnerable,” Ward said. “Instead of attacking our children, they should be reaching across the aisle searching for win-win solutions.  We will not sit idly by while politicians try to snuff out the dreams of tens of thousands of low-income black and Hispanic students.”

Civil rights icon H.K. Matthews, who was arrested nearly 40 times for his attempts to fight racial injustice, also spoke. He characterized the lawmakers’ attempts as “madness” and urged them to stop using minority children to pursue their agendas.

“I spent my entire life fighting for social justice,” Matthews said. “It’s not social justice to put thousands of low income black and Hispanic students under the bus.”

The pastors were joined in the Capitol Rotunda by scholarship students and parents from around the state, many holding signs with the message, “Don’t take my scholarship,” as well as several members of the Florida Democratic Caucus, including State Rep. James Bush III, D-Miami.

“The efforts to pressure donors to stop contributing to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program could have a devastating effect on education opportunities for our most vulnerable students,” Bush said. “I should know. In my district, more than 2,300 low-income students use the scholarships to attend schools of their choice.”

Bush added that 54 percent of those students are Hispanic and 45 percent are black. The average household income of those families, Bush said, is just over $21,000.


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