School Choice Is the New Civil Rights Struggle

By | May 30, 2009

BRENDAN MINITER, Wall Street Journal

– Getting arrested doesn’t normally bolster a politician’s credibility. But when South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford told me recently that he saw the inside of a jail cell 73 times, he did so to make a point. As a youth, Mr. Ford cut his political teeth in tumultuous 1960s civil-rights protests.

Today this black Democrat says the new civil-rights struggle is about the quality of instruction in public schools, and that to receive a decent education African-Americans need school choice. He wants the president’s help. “We need choice like Obama has. He can send his kids to any school he wants.”

Mr. Ford was once like many Democrats on education — a reliable vote against reforms that would upend the system. But over the past three and a half years he’s studied how school choice works and he’s now advocating tax credits and scholarships that parents can spend on public or private schools.

He’s not alone. Three other prominent black Democrats in South Carolina have publicly challenged party orthodoxy. In 2006 State Rep. Harold Mitchell Jr. crossed party lines to endorse Republican Karen Floyd for state education superintendent. “We have to try something different,” he told me at the time. That same year, Curtis Brantley defeated a state representative in a primary fought over education reform. And last year, Ennis Bryant ran (unsuccessfully) against an anti-school-choice state representative in a primary.

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