School Voucher Controversy Escalates as National African American Leaders Coalesce Around Issue

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 10, 1998

Contact: Media at People For the American Way Foundation

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CBC members decry campaign to promote vouchers to minority and disadvantaged groups

As Congress prepares to take up education as one of its priorities, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have joined forces with the national African American Ministers Leadership Council, the NAACP and the People For the American Way Foundation to make clear to conservatives who are aggressively pushing voucher legislation that their proposals would hurt most minority and disadvantaged children. Many ministers on the Council are leaders of clergy networks in their home communities. They are affiliated with networks totaling more than 1,000 churches across the United States.

The public statement is being made to serve notice to conservatives and the Religious Right who are gathering in Washington for conferences later this month that the groups oppose public school vouchers because they will leave most minority and disadvantaged children behind in public schools that have been further stripped of financial resources through voucher programs.

Conservatives pushing school vouchers, including Senators Coats and Coverdell, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Reps. Armey, Riggs and Watts, have voted against a series of measures that would have helped children in public schools such as school modernization, smaller class sizes and summer education and job training programs, while at the same time calling themselves champions of children and education.

“Private school vouchers are a bad idea because they allow discrimination against children based on sex, religion, disability and other reasons prohibited in public schools,” said Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va. “Moreover, we know that regardless of how they are initially financed, they will eventually siphon off public school funds to finance private/religious school education for a few children at the expense of the vast majority of children remaining in public schools.”

“Dangling the conservatives’ voucher agenda in front of the nation’s most disenfranchised Americans under the guise of helping them is both immoral and hypocritical,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald, chairman of the national African American Ministers Leadership Council and president of Concerned Black Clergy in Atlanta. “Inner city parents whose schools are not performing well are desperate for solutions and the Religious Right is exploiting that frustration. This is really an attempt to divide the African American community against itself. All you have to do is look at conservatives’ voting record, which shows consistent opposition to programs that would benefit children, to realize that there is a lack of compassion for minority and disadvantaged children.”

“The struggle for educational opportunity remains at risk,” said Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO of the NAACP. “Regrettably, the opposition is gathering strength. They are packaging the threat to that opportunity attractively and spending millions to make it policy. Once again, we are being called upon to stand up on behalf of our children and to fight back.”

PFAWF President Carole Shields said not only are vouchers bad for minority and disadvantaged school children, they don’t work. “In Milwaukee, which currently operates the nation’s largest voucher program, fly-by-night voucher schools have opened, taken tax dollars, and closed amid horror stories of corruption, theft and fiscal irresponsibility,” Shields said. “The solution to problems in education is to fix the public schools, not abandon them.”

Today’s announcement follows a year and a half of hard work and organizing in minority communities by Partners for Public Education, an initiative launched by the NAACP and PFAWF in 1997. Partners for Public Education programs have been launched in Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia, and a program will be launched in Milwaukee later this year. The national African American Ministers Leadership Council is a project of the People For the American Way Foundation.