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New NAACP President Derrick Johnson Speaks on Education and Moratorium on Charter Schools

LOS ANGELES - Equitable education is a top priority for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which re-emphasized its call for a moratorium on charter school expansion during its California Hawaii 30th Annual State Convention at the LAX Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles Oct. 26-29.

The NAACP contends that charter schools divert already-limited funds from public schools, without the same levels of oversight, civil rights protections, and transparency. It wants stronger oversight in governance and practice in the system.

In California, of the 175,000 Black students who took the math test for 2017, six percent exceeded state standards, 13 percent met standards, 25 percent ‘nearly' met standards, and 56 percent did not, according to the California Department of Education.

In English/Language Arts, 44 percent of the 175,000 Blacks tested did not meet state standards, while 25 percent nearly passed, 22 percent passed, and 9 percent exceeded them.

During an invitation-only stakeholders meeting on Oct. 26, CBM sought new NAACP President Derrick Johnson's thoughts on calling for a moratorium on charter schools, when some families are finding success in these schools.

While not all traditional schools are failing, Black children are suffering greatly in traditional schools, not just from a lack of education, but from criminalization through various disciplinary measures (such as random backpack searches, suspensions, and expulsions), CBM noted.

"The NAACP will continue to advocate for quality education for our children. We began to notice a trend with charter schools. We're clear that anytime you put a profit motive behind the delivery of education there are individuals who would put profit above people," Johnson replied.

As a result, he said the organization's position is clear. It is calling for a moratorium on charter schools, because of the privatization of schools and the lack of transparency in their operations.

Particularly, Johnson said, the NAACP is looking at the impact of how charters operate across the country, which varies under state laws.

"You have scenarios like in Detroit, where the authorizing board, you have 16 of them. There is no standardization. There is no transparency in their governance. And in some cases, we found that schools would open up, receive resources, and close, and parents are left holding the bag," Johnson stated.

He said that level of instability is found in the majority of Black, Latino and poor neighborhoods.

Johnson said there might be some best practices across the country with charter schools, and the NAACP knows there is not a perfect system with public schools.

That said, it has long advocated for quality education in the public school sector, but the 15-year emergence of the privatization of education is also a problem, he stated.

"We will not be consistent with our mission if we didn't speak out as strongly against what's taking place in the privatization process of delivering education in the same vein that we have historically spoken out against the lack of quality in the public setting. That's why we've taken the position that we've taken," Johnson stated.

Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the National Action Network Los Angeles Chapter agrees with the NAACP that equity in the overall funding of students per pupil is a worthy fight.

Though his own children attend a charter school, Tulloss advocates for a cap, because he feels the Black community is too flooded with the sites. He said he is also against a two-tier system that pits charter vs. traditional, because every child matters.

"I don't particularly agree with the NAACP stance in trying to point out the discrepancies of charter schools, because, when you do that, you talk about my children who attend charter schools. As a parent, I chose charter schools, because there's not a one-size-fits-all system," Tulloss said.

"My child, I feel, is doing a great job in a charter school, Watts Learning Center, which is 70 percent African American students there," he added.

On the political front, CBM also asked Johnson how he thinks the NAACP's switch from a 501(c)(3) non-partisan status to a 501(c)(4), allowing it to lobby or campaign politically, may impact its ability to not fall prey to the highest bidder.

He replied the NAACP is a membership-based advocacy organization, with strength in its local units across the country.

They are already 501(c)(4), which means very few restrictions on policies, positions, how they inform the community, and political advocacy around certain measures, Johnson said.

"The NAACP also has an internal policy that we don't endorse political parties or individual candidates," he said. But the national office has been restricted and limited on the type of support it could give to state conferences on certain ballot positions.

"In order for us to have consistency, we're creating a (c)(4) so we'll have better alignment with our local units as they advocate for public policy, but we will retain our (c)(3) at the same time,” Johnson concluded.

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