NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Choice Is The New Civil Rights Battle

July 20, 2000

The school choice debate is redefining the civil rights movement, argues Mikel Holt in a new book, "Not Yet Free at Last." School choice empowers African-American parents by giving them control over their children's education, says Holt.

His book lays out the history of the fight for school choice in Milwaukee.

  • In Milwaukee, African-American students have a 40 percent dropout rate and in some schools the African-American grade point average is an F+.
  • Over a 10-year period, 8,000 low-income students, mostly minority, were given vouchers they could use to attend private schools of their choice, and excelled in Catholic and private schools.

Holt argues that the traditional civil rights groups no longer serve the real concerns of minority parents. He links the rise of school choice programs to flawed desegregation remedies, specifically involuntary busing.

  • As busing became mandatory, whites fled from Milwaukee for the suburbs, and the public schools began a precipitous decline.
  • By the 1970s, African-American parents became alarmed by their children's falling test scores -- with grade point averages in 13 of Milwaukee's 15 high schools falling below 2.0 and the dropout rate increasing to more than double the state average.
  • African-American activists and parents formed the Milwaukee Federation of Independent Community Schools to lobby the state to provide vouchers for low-income parents wishing to send their children to parochial schools.

Holt is critical of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), People for the American Way, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and teachers unions for their opposition to school choice. The NAACP, he argues, must change its focus from civil rights and assimilation to empowerment and self-determination, or it will become irrelevant in the lives of African-Americans.

Source: Mikel Holt, Not Yet Free At Last: The Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Movement-Our Battle for School Choice, Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1611 Telegraph Avenue, Suite 902, Oakland, Calif. 94612, December 1, 1999.


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