“Jena Six” Defendant Could Provide Example of the Benefit of School Choice

“Jena Six” Defendant Could Provide Example of the Benefit of School Choice

Washington, D.C. – Jesse Ray Beard, the youngest member of the “Jena Six,” is reportedly interested in spending a portion of his legal defense fund on private school tuition.

Beard and five other black students attending Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana are accused of beating a white student in a racially-charged December 2006 incident.  The case received international attention and protests in favor of the black students.  One of the Jena Six – Mychal Bell – has pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge related to the incident.  Beard and the others are awaiting trial.

“Without discounting the seriousness of the charges against Jesse Ray Beard, the fact that he now appears to want to take advantage of a means of getting the best education possible is heartening,” said Project 21 Fellow Deneen Borelli.  “The fact that the only way he was given this choice was through a tragic series of events points to inherent problems in our nation’s educational system that must be rectified.”

Borelli, in addition to her work as a fellow with Project 21, is a member of the board of trustees of the Opportunity Charter School in Harlem.

Beard is living in New York with attorney Alan Howard while serving a 16-month sentence of house arrest on unrelated juvenile crime charges.  He is allowed to work in a law firm and was accepted to a summer English course at the Canterbury School, a college preparatory boarding school.

Beard applied to be a full-time student at Canterbury, and would like to spend some of the money donated for his legal defense to pay for the school’s tuition.

“They say that every dark cloud has a silver lining.  In this case, Jesse Ray Beard is laying the groundwork to give himself a second chance through a quality education at a reputable school.  This is unfortunately not a choice available to his classmates in Jena,” added Project 21’s Borelli.  “While Beard may still be punished for what he allegedly did back in Louisiana, he is now taking advantage of something that could open up collegiate and career opportunities that were little more than a dream at Jena High.  It’s a crime that parents and students everywhere don’t have a similar ability to go to a school that provides ample opportunity.”

According to the America’s Promise Alliance, 17 of the 50 largest cities in America have high school graduation rates of less than 50 percent.  The Alliance for Excellent Education has estimated that dropouts from the 2007 school year alone will cost the nation over $300 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity.  A new study of the Milwaukee Parental School Choice Program found that 85 percent of students involved in the school choice program graduated high school in 2007 as opposed to 58 percent in the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992.  For more information, contact Ryan Balis at (202) 543-4110 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at www.project21.org/P21Index.html.


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