Yesterday, as more children enrolled in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) fell further behind in remote, online schooling, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined the Bluegrass Institute and the Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition (K-PAC), a group of African-American pastors and community leaders, in calling for immediate education reform – including school choice – at a roundtable discussion in Louisville’s inner city.
The discussion centered around JCPS’ failure to educate low-income children and the growing achievement gaps between Black and white students.
Pastor Jerry Stephenson, leader of K-PAC and minister of Midwest Church of Christ, which hosted the event, pointed out to Sec. DeVos that in the community where the event was held, 79% of Black and low-income children cannot perform at grade level in reading and math
“Across the street is another Metro Council district – 84% of the children there can’t read or do math at grade level,” Stephenson said.
When examining racial disparities in education, racial injustice was a common sentiment.
William Mansfield, Center for Economic and Social Justice board member, called education equality the “civil rights issue of our time.” Spirit of Love Center Pastor Derek Wilson, who helped found Destiny Academy – now in its third year of educating low-income students – explained that the church started the school because they “were tired of seeing so many young African-American children fall through the cracks.” Wilson said he personally believes JCPS has demonstrated a form of “institutional racism” and that its monopoly on the education system is responsible for many of the tragedies occurring in the Black community.
The group also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on school choice support as recent polling indicates three of four parents of public school children want their education dollars to follow their child, regardless of where the student is enrolled.
“We find ourselves in a time of disruption – some would say crisis. But, this is not a time which lacks opportunities,” said moderator and Bluegrass Institute CEO Jim Waters. “I believe the opportunities to make significant progress in our efforts to ensure that Kentucky’s children have access to the kind of education that offers them a brighter future have never been greater.”
Sec. DeVos echoed, “There are millions of children that are struggling, that are being left behind, and this COVID crisis has only magnified it….the urgency around a change has become more clear than ever before…I believe that now is the time to raise voices more loudly than ever before and to insist on the policy changes that need to take place.”
Along with Waters and Sec. DeVos, roundtable participants included:
- Pastor Jerry Stephenson, Midwest Church of Christ and K-PAC Chief Operating Officer
- Pastor Larry Coleman, City Church
- Pastor Milton Seymore, Energized Baptist Church
- Pastor Derek Wilson, Spirit of Love Center
- Angela Minter, Sisters for Life
- William Mansfield, Center for Economic and Social Justice and Mansfield Institute for Public Policy and Political Engagement
- Melanie House-Mansfield, Ph.D., Direct Connect Learning, LLC
- MeShorn Daniels, Man UP
- Richard Curry, Midwest Church of Christ
- Pastor Matthew Smyzer, Beargrass Missionary Baptist Church
You can watch the full event on the Midwest Church of Christ Facebook page.