The North Carolina NAACP’s president, Rev. William Barber, gestures during a news conference in Richmond in June. On Saturday, national NAACP leaders backed a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools. (Steve Helber/AP)

(Update: Adding reaction)

Leaders of the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, bucked intense pressure from supporters of charter schools on Saturday and ratified a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charters and for stronger oversight of these schools.

Members of the NAACP’s board of directors, meeting in Cincinnati, ratified a resolution adopted in July by delegates to the organization’s 2016 convention that called for a moratorium on more charter schools until:

1. Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools
2. Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
3. Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate
4. 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.

This was not the first time the NAACP has expressed concern about charter schools, but this resolution goes further than others approved in recent years and had generated an intense campaign by supporters of charters to try to persuade the group’s board not to ratify it.

The campaign included pro-charter columns, blog posts and editorials, including by The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. A letter signed by 160 African Americans involved in education — many of them leaders of charter schools — accused the NAACP of making a false anti-charter argument and said that a “blanket moratorium on charter schools would limit black students’ access to some of the best schools in America and deny black parents the opportunity to make decisions about what’s best for their children.”

The battle over the resolution underscored a split among African Americans and civil rights groups about the virtues and drawbacks of charter schools and how they affect traditional public schools. Opponents say that too many charter schools promote racial segregation, are poorly run and siphon public funds from traditional public schools, which educate the neediest students. The Black Lives Matter movement, in a wide-ranging platform released earlier this year, supported a charter moratorium.

Today the thousands of charter schools — which are funded with public money but allowed to operate independently of public school districts — educate about 6 percent of all public school students in various states and the District of Columbia. Eight states have no charter schools, and five have fewer than 10. As my colleague Emma Brown wrote in this report on five charter school myths, “The debate is loud, but the market share is still small.”

Reaction to the NAACP’s move was swift — and in at least one case, incendiary.

Supporting the NAACP was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers:

“Charters were intended as part of—not a replacement for—the public school system. But some who promote and fund charters today have other designs, and the explosion of unaccountable charters has drained resources for children, forced the closing of neighborhood schools and destabilized districts and communities in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit. In many places—the state of Ohio being one particularly egregious example—lax oversight results in rampant fraud, waste and mismanagement. And in places from New York City to California, charters have been caught discriminating in their admissions to keep out high-needs students.

“The NAACP’s commitment to excellent and equitable education for all children, particularly children of color, is unimpeachable and well predates those who now criticize the civil rights organization. Rather than criticize, one should try to address the underlying reasons why the NAACP is calling for a pause in further charter expansion. Addressing the issues raised in its resolution—including real transparency and accountability standards for charters—is a necessary step in the fight for great public schools for all children. There is growing consensus, as seen in the Democratic Party platform and taken up by civil rights groups from the NAACP to Black Lives Matter, that we must end the expansion of for-profit and unaccountable charter schools. I look forward to continuing to work with the NAACP to improve public schools and win equity.”

Shavar Jeffries, president of the pro-charter advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform issued a scathing response, saying in part:

“W.E.B. DuBois is rolling in his grave. The NAACP, a proud organization with a historic legacy of expanding opportunity for communities of color, now itself stands in the schoolhouse door, seeking to deny life-changing educational opportunities to millions of children whose parents and families desperately seek alternatives to schools that have failed them for too long. Public charters schools throughout the country are creating new pathways to college and career that were previously unavailable. The idea that the NAACP would support a blanket moratorium that would apply across-the-board to all charters, including schools like Urban Prep that send 100% of its graduates to college, is a tragic contradiction of what the NAACP has traditionally stood for. The NAACP faces a choice: cling to policies of the past that have failed Black children for decades, or embrace the future and the innovative practices that will create hope and opportunity in places where neither is present.”

Whatever position one takes on charters, there is no denying that the charter sector in a number of states is severely troubled, with little or virtually no oversight, leading to numerous financial and other scandals. A new audit by the U.S. Education Department’s own Inspector General’s Office said that the department, which has for more than 10 years poured more than $3 billion into the creation and operation of charter schools, has failed in some cases to provide adequate oversight and as a result has put its own grants at risk.

California has more charter schools and charter school students than any other state in the nation, and charter supporter Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who started two charter schools when he was mayor of Oakland, recently vetoed legislation aimed at bringing more oversight to the state’s troubled charter industry, which has generated a continuing stream of scandals.

A recent report (by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group) found that more than 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law. Meanwhile, a Mercury News investigation published in April revealed that the state’s online charter schools run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., the largest for-profit charter operator in the country, have “a dismal record of academic achievement” but have secured more than $310 million in state funding over the past dozen years.

 

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This is the news release from the NAACP:

October 15, 2016

CINCINNATI — Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Board of Directors ratified a resolution Saturday adopted by delegates at its 2016 107th National Convention calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.

“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.”

The National Board’s decision to ratify this resolution reaffirms prior resolutions regarding charter schools and the importance of public education, and is one of 47 resolutions adopted today by the Board of Directors. The National Board’s decision to ratify supports its 2014 Resolution, ‘School Privatization Threat to Public Education’, in which the NAACP opposes privatization of public schools and public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools. Additionally, in 1998 the Association adopted a resolution which unequivocally opposed the establishment and granting of charter schools which are not subject to the same accountability and standardization of qualifications/certification of teachers as public schools and divert already-limited funds from public schools.

We are calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools at least until such time as:
(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools
(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system
(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and
(4) 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.

Historically the NAACP has been in strong support of public education and has denounced movements toward privatization that divert public funds to support non-public school choices.

“We are moving forward to require that charter schools receive the same level of oversight, civil rights protections and provide the same level of transparency, and we require the same of traditional public schools,” Chairman Brock said. “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.”

While we have reservations about charter schools, we recognize that many children attend traditional public schools that are inadequately and inequitably equipped to prepare them for the innovative and competitive environment they will face as adults. Underfunded and under-supported, these traditional public schools have much work to do to transform curriculum, prepare teachers, and give students the resources they need to have thriving careers in a technologically advanced society that is changing every year. There is no time to wait. Our children immediately deserve the best education we can provide.

“Our ultimate goal is that all children receive a quality public education that prepares them to be a contributing and productive citizen,” said Adora Obi Nweze, Chair of the National NAACP Education Committee, President of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and a former educator whose committee guides educational policy for the Association.

“The NAACP’s resolution is not inspired by ideological opposition to charter schools but by our historical support of public schools — as well as today’s data and the present experience of NAACP branches in nearly every school district in the nation,” said Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the NAACP. “Our NAACP members, who as citizen advocates, not professional lobbyists, are those who attend school board meetings, engage with state legislatures and support both parents and teachers.”

“The vote taken by the NAACP is a declaratory statement by this Association that the proliferation of charter schools should be halted as we address the concerns raised in our resolution,” said Chairman Brock.