31 Jan 2007 Project 21 Press Release: Black Activist Takes Issue with School Choice Opposition
Senator Edward Kennedy’s (D-MA) opposition to a proposed revision of the federal “No Child Left Behind” educational policy to allow school choice is evidence of an elitist attitude and a willingness to put the desires of the teachers’ unions over the needs of students according to a fellow with the black leadership network Project 21.
“When public schools are failing our children, parents should have accessible school choice options to meet their child’s educational needs,” said Project 21 fellow Deneen Borelli. “To deny children the opportunity they need in order to preserve the status quo is something Senator Kennedy and his colleagues should be ashamed of doing.”
With No Child Left Behind up for congressional renewal this year, last week Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings outlined changes the Bush Administration would like to make to the policy. These changes include making schools accountable for science test scores, improved gathering of data on graduation rates, publication of school test results and a more vocational bent to some math and English curricula.
The key revisions would allow students at “chronically underperforming” schools – schools that fail to meet defined standards for a period of five years or more – to be given vouchers worth thousands of dollars that they could use to attend other public or private schools. Underperforming schools could be turned into charter schools and union contracts could be overruled to move teachers to other schools. In an interview with The Washington Times, Secretary Spelling said, “We’ve given [these schools] a chance, we’ve given them resources and it’s time for us to say [the law] is a real promise and other options have to be brought to bear.”
A bill to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind policy is expected to be introduced in March or April.
In response to the school choice revision, Kennedy, who now chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that will conduct hearings on the reauthorization bill, said: “I am disappointed that the Administration has once again proposed siphoning crucial resources from our public schools – already reeling from increased requirements and budget cuts – for a private school voucher program. I’m also disappointed that the Administration has proposed circumventing state law with respect to worker protections and other issues. We need to focus on how to help public schools improve and not use this reauthorization to push an ideological agenda that detracts from this goal.”
Reg Weaver, the president of the National Education Association teachers’ union, similarly criticized the proposal for allegedly trying “to strip collective-bargaining agreements.”
“Our educational policy should be focused on the children, but it seems that Senator Kennedy wants to rename this policy ‘No Union Member Left Behind,'” said Project 21’s Borelli. “We must remember that Senator Kennedy is the son of privilege. In his formative years, he went to the Fessenden School – the alma mater of Howard Hughes and Senate colleague John Kerry. He also attended the Milton Academy, a school that today boasts a $150 million endowment and a 125-acre campus for less than 700 students. He effectively had school choice because his family could afford to enroll him in the best schools. Now, however, as a lawmaker, he wants to force less fortunate students to stay in underperforming government-run schools so that unionized teachers can maintain the status quo. It’s a classic case of do as I say, not as I do.”
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 David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x11 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html.