Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), recently demonized concerned parents and school choice advocates by likening them to segregationists. 

She claimed: 

“Those same words that you heard in terms of wanting segregation post Brown v. Board of Education, those same words you hear today. I was kind of gobsmacked when I was talking to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and they showed me the same words—‘choice’ and ‘parental rights’—in an attempt to divide parents vs. teachers. At that point, it was white parents vs. other parents. But it’s the same kind of words. The goal is … the end of public education as we know it.”
Randi Weingarten

Mostly false or misleading. Significant errors or omissions. Mostly make believe.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a radical left-wing organization whose mission is to “dismantle white supremacy” and “strengthen intersectional movements.” Conservatives, centrists, and left-leaning people alike largely discredit the organization. Several criticisms include the organization’s explicit political bias, a leadership scandal involving racism and sexism, a SPLC lawyer charged as a domestic terrorist, influence on a violent left-wing attack on a family organization, and labeling parent advocacy organizations such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education as “hate groups” and “extremists.” The SPLC equates parental rights organizations and religious groups with the Klu Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups. 

By linking educational choice and parental rights with segregation, Weingarten revealed her ignorance of American education history. Political economist John Stuart Mill wrote about the utility of education vouchers in 1859. In his essay, On Liberty, Mill suggested that “It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them.” He detested the public education monopoly and understood that educational choice and competition would benefit all students. 

Famed economist Milton Friedman popularized school choice and school vouchers because they incentivized higher-quality education in the school system. Friedman believed: “A voucher plan … could do more to moderate racial conflict and to promote a society in which black and white cooperate in joint objectives.” School vouchers promote the best interests of the student and improve educational outcomes for students previously trapped in low-performing schools. 

A study by Jay Greene and Nicole Mellow concluded that “private schools tend to offer a more racially integrated environment than public schools.” The primary reason for successful integration is that “private school attendance is not as closely attached to where a person lives as attendance at public schools. Public schools tend to replicate and reinforce racial segregation in housing.” 

Unfortunately, minority groups are statistically overrepresented in the poverty population. In 2019, Black people represented 13.2% of the total population in the United States but 23.8% of the poverty population. Hispanic people comprised 18.7% of the total population but 28.1% of the poverty population. Often, students in low-performing schools in high-poverty areas do not have access to stimulating classes and high-quality teachers. The real segregation is forcing minority students into failing union-controlled schools based on their zip codes and socioeconomic status. Friedman accurately noted that in large cities and suburbs, “the public school [system] has fostered residential stratification, by tying the kind and the cost of schooling to residential location.” 

Contrary to Weingarten’s claims, school choice is not about “white parents vs. other parents.” In reality, the majority of African Americans support school choice and voucher programs. Morning Consult found that 79% of black parents of school-aged children support vouchers and 78% support education savings accounts (ESAs). The same survey found that “Only one-fourth of Black parents believe education should stay the same as it is today.”

Increasing school voucher programs and educational options allow parents to cross residentially restrictive district lines. Parents can find a school that better fits the needs of their students and aligns with their values. Many parents seek alternative options to public schools because of the persistent failure of their local schools to educate their children. They are tired of the constant belittlement by the public school system and teachers unions.

Randi Weingarten and organizations like the SPLC demonize parents by calling them “segregationists” and “extremists.” School choice and voucher programs significantly benefit minority and low-income students. Weingarten’s assertion that parental rights and school choice are inherently racist is misleading at best and malicious at worst. Parents who want the best for their children are not the enemy: teachers unions and union leaders are. 

Over the course of this back-to-school season, Independent Women’s Forum will be exposing misleading and inaccurate quotes from teachers unions and their advocates through a series of Unicorn Fact Checks. This is the sixth Unicorn Fact Check in the series.