The Atlantic City Education Association (ACEA) invited Jitu Brown, a community organizer in Chicago and the national director of Journey for Justice, to speak at the Martin Luther King Jr. School in Atlantic City on October 29. Brown recounted the struggle of activists, parents, students, and teachers to reopen Walter H. Dyett School, closed by the Chicago Public School District. “We won, (but) we’re taught to think we can’t win,” he warned, “We think it’s special, benevolent individuals that will come and rescue us.”
The ACEA brought Brown to Atlantic City to speak about school vouchers, which the Atlantic City Council has voted unanimously to place on a non-binding referendum this Election Day. “There is no such thing as choice in Black or Brown communities,” Brown countered, “If it were real, it would be grounded in stability. (But) the choice of a great school has been taken from us.” Noting the repeated failure of vouchers, Brown asked, “Why this commitment to what does not work?”
ACEA Vice-President Gary Melton told the audience how he spoke against vouchers at the AME National Convention in 2008, “The same institution that doesn’t pay taxes wants to (now) use taxpayer money.” Melton also explained the fixed costs associated with maintaining school buildings that cannot be reduced on a per-pupil basis, “When one student leaves my classroom (to attend a private school), I don’t turn down the heat. The lights are still on.”
The ACEA is vigorously campaigning to raise awareness of the referendum and inform voters of the cost to their public schools. ACEA President Marcia Genova voiced her concerns about the impact on a district already struggling financially. “We believe we have excellent schools here,” Genova said. “We provide so many services, so much more than any private school could offer.”
Atlantic City voters will have the opportunity to support their local public schools at the polls on Nov. 8.