It’s rare to see disharmony between Black ministers and the NAACP. But a group of Florida pastors is in a standoff against the historic civil rights organization regarding the contentious issue of school choice.
At a news conference in May, the Rev. R.B. Holmes, along with dozens of other Florida pastors, urged the NAACP and Florida teachers union to end a lawsuit that seeks to terminate a state tax credit for private school vouchers, reports The Tallahassee Democrat.
Holmes said the NAACP is “on the wrong side of history” on this issue, the newspaper reported.
Opponents of the scholarship program argue that it redirects funding that could otherwise go toward improving public education. In doing so, the program violates a state constitutional amendment to provide a “high quality system of free public schools.”
According to The Miami Herald, the program provides $5,677 scholarships to more than 78,000 children from low-income families, who otherwise could not afford a private school education.
But the president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Adora Obi Nweze, has stated to The Pensacola News-Journal that school choice has a drawback:
“The NAACP has historically taken a position in support of public schools. We don’t support any effort to drain money from public schools. And while it (voucher program) in fact, does try to support the best form of education for students, research has not proven that.”
In 2014, the Florida teachers’ union, the Florida NAACP, and other groups sued to end the scholarship on constitutional grounds. But a judge threw out their case in 2015.
Undaunted, the plaintiffs brought their case in May to the Florida First District Court of Appeals, to the dismay of Black pastors.
“On school choice, it is time for the NAACP to lay down its arms,” stated Miami Pastor Mark Coats, a lifelong member of the organization, in a Miami Herald op-ed.
The minister said the pastors disagree that school choice is “an attack on public schools.” Rather, it’s “a complement” to the public education system. The scholarships, he argued, give low-income families a means to provide the type of education that affluent families give their children.
It’s a means, he added, to achieve social justice and to provide hope.