Group warns of court fight if HB 514 charter-school legislation is enacted

Four African Americans who once chaired the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board said the controversial bill would further segregate public schools by race and income.

Arthur Griffin, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board chair and current chair of the Political Black Caucus, talks at a press conference in opposition to House Bill 514, which would allow four towns in the northern Mecklenburg to form their own charter schools. He is joined by local clergy, education advocates and three other African Americans who once chaired the local school board. (Photo: Kayanah Alexander for Qcitymetro.)

A court challenge may be needed to stop Republicans in the state legislature from implementing a controversial charter school bill, four African-American former school board chairs said Tuesday.

House Bill 514, which passed the state Senate on Monday, would allow four majority-white suburban towns outside Charlotte to create their own charter schools, giving preference to students who live in those towns. The Republican-controlled House, which passed HB 514 last year, must now approve the Senate’s version of the bill.

Republican lawmakers, who hold a veto-proof majority in the state, also included a provision in this year’s state budget that gives municipalities authority to spend tax money on public education.

Critics say those two actions, when viewed together, indicate an effort to effectively re-impose racial segregation in North Carolina schools.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at Little Rock AME Zion Church in uptown Charlotte, former school board chair

‘Morally reprehensible’

Arthur Griffin Jr., a former school board chair and current chair of the Political Black Caucus, called HB 514 “morally reprehensible,” and he compared it to a legislative effort in 1957 to sidestep court-ordered school de-segregation.

“Growing up in Charlotte, my parents didn’t have the resources and political standing to fight institutional racism,” he said. “But in 2018, I do. You do. We do. And we need to stand up and fight institutional racism.”

The former school board chairs, who also included George Battle Sr., Wilhelmenia Rembert and Ericka Ellis-Stewart, were joined at the Tuesday press conference by local clergy, education advocates and a fifth former school board chair, William Rikard, who is white.

Speakers urged the public to get involved and warned of litigation if HB 514 is implemented. Current CMS leadership also has hinted at legal action to stop implementation should the bill become law.

“We cannot stand idly by and let legislators take us back to the ’40s and ’50s,” Griffin said.

Battle, a bishop in the AME Zion church, added: “It is a shame that we have to fight for equality when God made us all the same.”

A battle for resources

Supporters of HB 514 say it has nothing to do with race.

Suburban towns in Mecklenburg County have long alleged that they are not getting a fair share of the CMS budget. The result, they say, has been severe overcrowding in many of the county’s suburban schools.

In its current version, HB 514 applies only to the towns of Matthews, Cornelius, Huntersville and Mint Hill. Proponents say the bill would give those towns and the families who live in northern Mecklenburg the tools they need to begin to address their own concerns.

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