The Wall Street Journal
HOUSES OF WORSHIP
APRIL 29, 2011
Churches for School Choice
Education reform is becoming the civil rights movement of this century.
It is late on the Wednesday night of Holy Week. The choir at Compton’s Holy Redeemer Church is rehearsing a beautiful gospel song in the sanctuary for their Easter Sunday service. In a tiny office attached to the church, Linda Serrato and Christina Sanchez are welcoming a steady stream of parents carrying sleeping bags.
Among them is K.W. Tulloss, the pastor at Weller Street Baptist Church in Los Angeles. An avid sports fan, Mr. Tulloss has given up a seat at the Lakers playoff game for a seat on a bus making an eight-hour, overnight trek to Sacramento to lobby state legislators on education reform.
Mr. Tulloss is the chairman of Parent Revolution, a grass-roots organization that has shocked the education establishment in California with a simple premise: Parents should have more say in the fate of their neighborhood schools. That’s because they are the one group in the education debate without a conflict of interest—their interests are entirely aligned with their children’s.
Parent Revolution has made national news in its ongoing attempt to use California’s new “parent trigger” law, which allows parents to transform a failing school by, among other things, replacing it with a charter school. Parents have already filed a charter petition in the Compton Unified School District, where only 47% of students graduate and less than 2% go to college. It is this injustice that enrages Ms. Serrato and Ms. Sanchez, both 20-somethings who attended Los Angeles public schools and then graduated from Stanford and Yale, respectively.
People like Mr. Tulloss and Pastor Kerry Allison of the Church of the Redeemer see education reform as the civil rights movement of this century. Mr. Tulloss stresses to his congregation that the issues that are most important to them—jobs, poverty, public safety—are all linked to education. Mr. Allison explains it this way in his church’s statement of faith: “We believe that every child is a precious heritage of the Lord and we are committed to loving, learning and lifting each child one mind at a time.”
Support for California’s parent-trigger law is coming not just from the pulpit but from the pews as well. Mary Najera, the lead organizer for Parent Revolution, has just returned from screening the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman'” to 70 parents at the Catholic Charities in Boyle Heights. A daughter of Mexican immigrants and mother of two, she plans on scheduling a number of other screenings at churches throughout Los Angeles as a primer on education reform for church-going parents.
Of course not all of the churches in Los Angeles are united in their support of parent trigger. But supporters refuse to sit on the sidelines. They are motivated by the words Martin Luther King wrote on scraps of paper in that Alabama jail cell: “Wait has almost always meant never. . . . Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
The support of many people of faith in Compton reflects a larger awakening among believers nationwide who see the disparity in educational options as one that can no longer be overlooked in light of the biblical mandate to fight for fairness and justice for all of God’s children. Tony Campolo, a leading evangelical author, has said that, “If Saint Francis were alive today, he would say each child in the public school system is sacramental. . . . To neglect them is to neglect Jesus Himself.”
Many of the people involved in Parent Revolution, regardless of their faith, credit one man of faith for changing the tide on education reform: Barack Obama. It was President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative that incentivized the California legislature to create the parent trigger. And many of the community organizers are veterans of his successful presidential campaign.
In “Dreams From My Father,” President Obama wrote about the obstacles to change for children in Chicago’s public schools: “The biggest source of resistance” to education reform, he wrote, “was rarely talked about. . . . Every one of our churches was filled with teachers, principals, and district superintendents. Few of these educators sent their own children to public schools; they knew too much for that. But they would defend the status quo with the same skill and vigor as their white counterparts of two decades before.”
As pastors like Messrs. Allison and Tulloss are telling their congregations, including teachers and school employees: You can’t profess one thing about equality for all God’s children on Sunday and then not practice it from Monday through Friday.
Mr. Flaherty is president and co-founder of Walden Media, which co-produced “Waiting for ‘Superman.'”
Tags: Charter schools, church, Education reform, grassroots, grassroots organization, Parent Trigger, Parental Rights, Parents Rights, problem schools, public schools, Waiting for Superman, waiting list