The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) today approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter school growth despite an effort by New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy to put the brakes on the vote.
Murphy, who serves as a voting board member of the civil rights organization, tried to open a discussion about the controversial resolution that has bitterly divided the African-American community in Newark and across the nation.
But other NAACP board members were not in a mood for dialogue and pushed forward with the resolution, one of 47 adopted by the organization during its meeting today in Cincinnati.
“The NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the National NAACP Board of Directors. “We are dedicated to eliminating the severe racial inequities that continue to plague the education system.”
“Our decision today is driven by a long held principle and policy of the NAACP that high quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children," Brock said.
Murphy, who was hurled into the middle of one of the most contentious issues in education today, told NewarkInc.com following the vote that he found it difficult to support the NAACP resolution with such deep divisions on the resolution.
“Communities may disagree as a matter of opinion, but leadership requires a careful examination of all facts and a shared goal of arriving at a consensus, when possible. I could not support today's resolution without having such clarity,” Murphy said. “As I have said publicly, the resolution as presented went too far from my own position. A 'time-out' to gather facts would have relevance to policy, but an immediate defunding of charter schools would put kids at risk."
Despite his disagreement with today's vote, Murphy said he was still willing to work with the NAACP board, evidenced by his creation today, with the concurrence of the NAACP national board, of a task force that will focus on creating consensus on key components of the critical charter schools versus public schools debate going forward.
“I am encouraged that the board agreed to the formation of a task force -- a path I recommended and vigorously supported -- to move us away from talk of 'us versus them' and bring together both sides of this contentious debate in a search for fact-based common ground and a path forward,” Murphy said. “This is vitally important especially given the impacts of getting the district-to-charter school balance right in communities of color. I look forward to being part of this discussion.”
Murphy received the endorsement of the New Jersey Education Association, which supported a charter school moratorium in New Jersey. But Murphy, the former ambassador to Germany, said he is committed to finding common ground between those who support charters and the union.
"I remain committed to bringing both sides of this issue together in New Jersey to figure out what works, what hasn't, and how district schools and charter schools can best coexist in our communities,” Murphy said.
The NAACP’s resolution specifically calls for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools at least until such time as charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools; public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system; charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate; and cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.
But charter school advocates argue that imposing a moratorium on charter school expansion would deny educational opportunities to families in urban areas like Newark, where traditional public schools have failed generations of children of color. In Newark, alone, there are thousands of children on waiting lists to attend the city’s charter schools.
Newark Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, the only elected official in Newark to speak out against the NAACP moratorium, said she was disappointed with the vote today.
“The NAACP’s vote will deny black families in urban areas like Newark the freedom to provide their children with a quality education,” said Chaneyfield Jenkins, who is a member of the NAACP. “The NAACP should be leading a discussion about inadequate schools in urban areas that have denied our children a quality education for generations. We need to stop making excuses for failing public schools. If a school is failing our children, it should be closed, whether it’s a traditional school or a charter school.”
Chaneyfield Jenkins, who serves as an advisor to Murphy, praised the candidate for his role in the creation of a NAACP task force.
“Martin Luther King asked, ‘Where do we go from here?’ For one, we need to shift this conversation from charters versus traditional schools to one in which we have an honest discussion about what it will take to improve public schools so that all children receive a quality education that they are entitled to as citizens of this country,” Chaneyfield Jenkins said.
The Rev. Ronald Slaughter, the pastor of Saint James AME Church in Newark, writing in TheGrio.com, said the NAACP was on the wrong side of history.
“Rather than hurting us, as the NAACP asserts, free public charter schools broaden the options for our many families who otherwise could not afford to send their children to a private school,” said Slaughter, the former chair of the board and current board member of Marion P. Thomas Charter in Newark.
Other New Jerseyans who opposed to the NAACP resolution included Shavar Jeffries, who ran for Newark mayor in 2014, Bishop Reginald Jackson, the head of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council and former Newark West Ward Councilman Ron Rice Jr., who now works for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
The entrenched education policy war between those more supportive of traditional public schools and those more in favor of charter schools played a key role in the 2014 Newark mayoral race, in which now-Newark Mayor Ras Baraka benefited from educational policy decisions made by then-Newark Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson, who was appointed to her position by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2011.
Anderson launched her school reorganization scheme, known as the “One Newark” plan, in September 2014. Meant to improve the city’s public education system by increasing student options, the plan left many local parents angry, confused and frustrated.
A widespread community backlash, which included vociferous student, parental and teacher protests, contributed to Anderson's resignation in June 2015, eight months before her contract was to expire.