More than 700 people attend forum promoting school choice

RALEIGH – Children in other countries are outpacing even the smartest American students, which is why it is imperative that a diverse education delivery system allows parents to choose the best school option for their children, said Howard L. Fuller, co-founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School District.

“If we don’t send our kids to the place that’s most effective, there is a public institution waiting for them, and it’s called prison,” he said to a resounding applause. “Whatever it takes to get our kids educated, that’s what we must do.”

More than 700 people, including some from as far away as Charlotte and Asheville, packed the North Raleigh Hilton Monday night for a town hall forum stressing the importance of school choice. Sponsored by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), the forum brought together educational leaders, lawmakers and parents for an honest discussion about how charter schools and other educational options can help increase academic performance.

“If we’re all swimming in the same direction, many of our children will not fall through the cracks,” said Darrell Allison, PEFNC president. “Tonight is not to bash public education, but we must look at the facts.”

Only 57 percent of North Carolina high school students graduate on time, Allison told the audience. The state’s graduation rate ranks 46th in the country. Less than half of black students pass math and reading.

Republicans, who control the legislature, plan to change state education policy by increasing North Carolina’s charter school limit and proposing tuition tax credits for working middle class families.

One of the reasons why countries such as China are surpassing the United States in academics is because they have school choice, said House Republican Leader Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake), who has advocated for educational tax credits.

“If we only make a few tinkers here and there, I think we should be sued for legislative malpractice,” he said.

Monday’s town hall forum was PEFNC’s final event in its Waiting for ‘Superman’ tour. PEFNC offered free viewings of the groundbreaking documentary, which details the shortfalls of public education, to nearly 2,000 viewers in cities across the state. Parent and teacher reactions to the movie was shown during Monday’s forum.

The conversation between panel members and the audience touched on a variety of topics, including school expectations, teacher unions and education spending.

Kristy Moore, president of the Durham Association of Educators, said she’s not against charter schools but wants to ensure they maintain high standards, including having quality staff.

“We would love to teach like the charters do,” she said. “We would love more field trips, more hands-on lessons. But when you’re looking at losing 200 teachers, that’s a problem.”

Peter C. Groff, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, pointed out that Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and other influential people support charter schools and that charter school funding should equal that of public schools.

“Our kids can’t wait anymore,” he said. “We need to prepare them for this global economy.”

Sen. Malcolm Graham (D-Mecklenburg) stressed the importance of creating a different delivery system for education.

"We cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect different results,” he said. “If it’s not money, then it must be the system itself.”

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