Not afraid to thrive

Most parents want their children to not only survive but thrive. Sadly, among some school-choice opponents, that is apparently viewed as a controversial statement.

Oklahomans from across the state recently rallied at the state Capitol, urging lawmakers to pass a robust school-choice tax credit that will allow them to use their tax dollars for the education setting that best serves each individual child, including private school and homeschooling.

But one lawmaker dismissed many of them—based, it appears, on skin color.

State Rep. John Waldron, a Tulsa Democrat who is white, tweeted that prior the start of the rally, the assembling crowd was “small and mostly white, until three charter buses disembarked students from Crossover Preparatory. I felt as though these kids were being used as pawns.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “pawn” to mean “one that can be used to further the purposes of another.” Put simply, Waldron suggested that black parents and children who support school choice are unknowingly exploited.

To suggest parents’ ability to understand policy issues is somehow related to their skin color is, of course, extremely offensive. And embracing that view also requires ignoring reality. While school choice can benefit all children, black families have documented good reasons to support it.

In the 2021/2022 school year, state testing showed that just 10 percent of African American students in Oklahoma schools tested proficient or better, and in Tulsa schools just 4 percent of black students tested proficient of better, despite spending approximately $16,979 per student. Many Crossover Prep students would be in the Tulsa district if not for the private school, which provides 100-percent scholarships to students.

Philip Abode, executive director of Crossover Preparatory Academy in north Tulsa, helped launch the school to provide students with a better option—and a better future.

“In our organization, we always say that God does the heavy lifting, because we’ve seen him do miracle after miracle to provide for our school,” Abode told rally attendees. “But the thing is it shouldn’t take miracles for good schools to exist in our community. And we really need our legislators to work together to be able to provide access to whatever school our parents think is the best school for their child.”

Wade Moore, founder of the Urban Prep Academy in Wichita, Kansas, also spoke, recalling how he was once treated by a school counselor.

“I opened up that Urban Prep Academy to make sure that no child under my watch will ever hear, ‘Kids like you don’t go to college,’” Moore said.

(For what it’s worth, both Abode and Moore are black, as am I.)

Some school-choice opponents may feel free to waive off the fact that 96 percent of black students in Tulsa schools are not at grade level. But the families of those children can’t afford to be dismissive.

About the author: Jonathan Small serves as President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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