Sunday, March 15, 2009

For white children at Legislative Plaza last Wednesday, they received better treatment; racism is alive and doing very well in Tennessee

I don't make charges of racism easily.

But from what I saw Wednesday at Legislative Plaza, the sight and stench were unmistakable as poor African-American children and their parents were treated as if they did not exist. And that is how public policy concerning the availability of charter PUBLIC SCHOOLS in Tennessee treats their fates.

Consider these scenes of Wednesday morning:

On the first floor in front of a committee room in Legislative Plaza, Brownies -- all white -- were holding plates full of cookies. They were noticed and pictures taken of them as they held up signs asking for legislation to ban puppy mills.

Sumner County Schools were well represented with at least three buses outside Legislative Plaza.

On the second floor of the War Memorial Building, a group of well-dressed high schoolers had seven long tables assembled for them. And they were treated to a great barbecue lunch that included desert. Of the 30 or so students there for a leadership gathering, one was African-American and one was Asian-American.

On the first floor of the War Memorial Building, another big group of white students were addressed at length by their legislator. They had many rows of chairs set up for them for their comfort to wait for their lawmaker, then listen.

So why were the black children and their parents -- who made a three-plus hour bus trip from their homes by getting up at 4:30 in the morning -- treated like virus-carrying vagabonds?

Some of the blame should be placed with the charter school association. It set up this lobbying day and gave everyone a list of specific lawmakers to see -- to lobby for legislation that would provide 100 percent open enrollment for Charter PUBLIC SCHOOLS. This way, any child being failed by traditional public schools can find a future in a charter PUBLIC SCHOOL. A parent needs that kind of choice.

We also need the authorizing authority for a charter PUBLIC SCHOOL taken away from local school boards and given to a state board. Charter PUBLIC SCHOOLS have shown they work in rescuing children in just their five years of existence.

But the school boards don't want the competition. They want a monopoly on your tax money so they can pay a host of administrative salaries first and guarantee tenure to teachers no matter if they perform well or not.

It is like giving Kroger's the authority to say whether a Harris-Teeter can open in your community, or a Food Lion, or a Publix. Choice saves money, for the shopper, and the taxpayers and child in the education system.

Would Kroger's offer many sales and try harder to please you if you didn't have other places to shop? It's the same with public schools.

And President Obama just this past week made charter PUBLIC SCHOOLS the centerpiece of his education agenda. He wants more -- as a more effective use of taxpayer money so it gets to the classrooms. The president also wants to challenge the education lobby that has had a stranglehold over funding for the few at the expense of the children.

A charter PUBLIC SCHOOL has a specific mission to carry out in rescuing children and bringing their academic performance and behavior back to age-appropriate levels. Your taxpayer money follows that the child to this place of rescue and redemption. A big difference in the charter PUBLIC SCHOOL is that they do not have all the administrative positions to pay first. There is one principal. And there sure isn't a school district director drawing $137,000 a year plus perks.

On that terrible Wednesday last week, even the lawmakers who are sponsoring the needed reforms in Tennessee, Rep. Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, were unavailable. Harwell was running late most of the morning. I kept stopping by her office and she had not yet arrived. Ramsey was supposed to hold a rally for the children and their parents on the Capitol building steps at 12:30. He canceled.

It was obvious that these children from Memphis and charter PUBLIC SCHOOLS in general are not a priority on their lists of things to do this legislative session. But how long can a child being failed in a traditional public school wait to be rescued? How long is it before that child only sees negatives as the only resolution for notice, money and association?

So after that Wednesday morning turned into disaster, the Memphis children and their parents were left to wander outside on the cold day, trying to find somewhere inexpensive to eat.

Oh, there were excuses offered for this racism. Some lawmakers explained that the legislative leadership switched things up and canceled session that day and forced everyone into subcommittee and committee to work on their bills. But that leadership knew these children were coming on that day. A schedule for visits had already been printed and sent out days in advance.

This is the old Tennessee two step. But in their avoidance of this issue of grave importance to the futures of children and a more effective use of your taxpayer money, these lawmakers stomped all over everything that was right and decent.

President Obama cannot change what is happening in Tennessee. Only we can. And racism remains alive and well in the place where it can do the most damage, Legislative Plaza.

For the first time in my life, I was ashamed of my country. My heart was broken. But one thing I can guarantee every lawmaker -- this most grievous offense to the least among us will not go unanswered.

The cause is right, the children are worthy and God is on our side.

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