The phrase "School Choice Now" will reverberate in Nashville on Tuesday (Jan. 28th) as multiple groups gather to send the message that "many children continue to be denied their civil right to a quality education."
Billed as the "School Choice NOW Celebration," the event will unfold at the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville at noon. Memphis voices will be prominent, with Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis, Dist. 90) serving as master of ceremonies and the Rev. Dwight Montgomery, president of the Memphis Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), among the speakers.
SCLC Memphis is partnering with the Federation for Children to sponsor a free bus ride to the event. Boarding at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Southland Mall parking lot (Shelby Dr. and Elvis Presley Blvd.), the bus departs at 6 a.m. Lunch will be included.
The debate about pending legislation involving vouchers includes disagreement about the scope, with some arguing that participation should be limited to children associated with schools ranked – by academic showing – in the bottom 5 percent and 10 percent.
Amid observances of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Montgomery issued a statement saying, "by not allowing parents the opportunity of educational choice, we are fostering yet another civil rights issue."
Children of lesser means are being discriminated against and forced "to attend schools that are not adequate to serve their learning needs," said Montgomery. "This is as unacceptable today as it was 59 years ago in 1955."
According to Montgomery, "all low-income families" should have access to the option of vouchers. His visibility on the issue mirrors the stance of a number of other African American clergy, including those associated with Tennessee Clergy for Educational Choice.
A position paper distributed by the group stresses that parents with means are accessing learning environments that best suit their children. "Only parents without the means, often African American parents, are being left behind as K-12 education transforms," the clergy assert. "Social justice demands that low income parents be empowered to choose the learning environment best suited for their children. For most children, it will be their assigned public school. But for some, it will be an alternative, even a faith based school."
African-American churches, the clergy group says, "have again responded to the overwhelming cry for help from African American parents by supporting the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) which will provide quality educational options and access for low income Black children."
Tuesday's event will reflect the coordinating effort of the Tennessee Federation for Children, which has joined with eight other organizations to announce the "School Choice NOW Celebration" observing National School Choice Week.
Other speakers will include: Chris Sanders, former wide-receiver for the Tennessee Titans; and the Rev. Dr. Marvin Mercer, Sr., treasurer of the Tennessee Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention.
The nine reform organizations participating in the Jan. 28 School Choice NOW Celebration in Nashville include:
* Agudath Israel of America
* Beacon Center of Tennessee
* Black Alliance for Educational Options
* Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
* Parent Revolution
* PublicSchoolOptions. org
* Tennessee Charter School Center
* Tennessee Federation for Children