A bill in the N.C. legislature that would allow Mecklenburg County towns to run their own charter schools is being compared to racist efforts in the 1950s to sidestep court-ordered integration.
In a statement Sunday, five African Americans who have led the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board said passage of House Bill 514 would take North Carolina “back to a time” of its “Jim Crow history.”
In addition to current school board Chair Mary McCray, the group also includes former chairs Bishop George Battle Sr., Arthur Griffin Jr., Wilhelmenia Rembert and Ericka Ellis-Stewart.
The group has scheduled a press conference on Tuesday to announce a “community call to action.”
Under HB 514, the towns of Matthews, Cornelius, Huntersville and Mint Hill would be permitted to run their own charter schools, with preference given to students who live in those towns.
While HB 514 applies to Mecklenburg only, a provision in a separate budget bill would allow cities across the state to spend tax money for public schools.
Suburban towns in Mecklenburg County have long complained that most CMS resources go to Charlotte schools. Republican lawmakers who support HB 514 say it would give suburban parents additional options.
Opponents say those bills will have the long-term effect of re-segregating Mecklenburg schools, where housing patterns already have created pockets of wealth and poverty, generally delineated by race. The towns affected by HB 514 have relatively small populations of African Americans and Latinos.
The former school board leaders compared the current legislation to a 1957 provision called the Freedom of Choice Act, which was designed to maintain segregated schools in North Carolina following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which effectively outlawed schools segregation by race.
“Today, 61 years later, it feels like 1957 all over again,” the group said in its statement.
Added Battle: “I don’t think the good and decent people of North Carolina would want us to go backward.”
Despite heated opposition from some Democrats, the N.C. Senate tentatively approved House Bill 514 last week. Republican in chambers hold a veto-proof majority.