Dear NAACP: Before your charter school vote, one Oklahoma parent wants to share his experience

ByGary Jones (op-ed)

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As an African-American man in Oklahoma City, I owe a great debt to the NAACP for opening doors for me. From integrating schools to ensuring voting rights to preventing housing discrimination, the NAACP’s historical efforts have impacted almost every facet of my life. And today, I stand with the NAACP in its Protect and Preserve Our Lives Pledge, which aims to reduce violence and change policing in our communities.

But this summer, I was surprised to hear about another NAACP effort: a resolution calling for a moratorium on new public charter schools, which will be voted on during its annual gathering in Ohio this Saturday. As a community leader and the father of a daughter enrolled in a charter school, I found it disconcerting to learn that an organization I respect as much as the NAACP had declared its opposition to quality public school options for African-American children.

Like most parents, I didn’t know much about charter schools, until I started volunteering as a Boy Scout leader for a troop made up largely of kids from KIPP Reach, a high-performing public charter school educating students in grades five through eight that’s been in Oklahoma City since 2002.

I was struck by the boys’ serious approach to school, the way that KIPP worked with their parents to create a supportive learning environment and how when the boys made mistakes, KIPP gave them a chance to learn rather than just disciplining them. I was so impressed by what I learned that I ended up transferring my daughter to KIPP Reach a year ago. It was the best decision I ever made, and she is thriving.

That’s why I am passionate about making sure that other parents in Oklahoma City have access to high-quality schools for their children. This past summer, I joined a coalition of pastors, community leaders and elected officials — including County Commissioner Willa Johnson, City Councilman John Pettis Jr., and State Senator Anastasia Pittman — who all affirmed our support for expanding charter schools in Oklahoma City as a way to ensure that more children will get the education they need to succeed.

But the NAACP’s resolution would effectively thwart this grassroots support for charter schools in our community. Charters do need oversight, but we can’t shut the door to any K-12 education option that is helping our kids reach high standards.

Before voting on this resolution, I hope the NAACP’s leaders will take time to learn more about charter schools and how they are helping African-American children to beat the odds and reverse the trend of academic underperformance across the country. Given the history of the NAACP and the dreams of its founders, this is not the time for the organization to turn its backs on schools that are offering hope to thousands of African-American children like mine.

Instead of taking away public school choices for African-American parents, the NAACP could join coalitions like the one here in Oklahoma City that are working with both the local school district and charter schools to open opportunities for more children. Let’s look beyond school labels and give our kids the best public education possible, whether that’s in a traditional public school or a public charter school. Our children deserve our collective effort to give them a better future.

Gary Jones is a government relations consultant in Oklahoma who is active in the community promoting quality education for all children.