A Welcome Change of Heart

In March, I wrote an editorial stating that Illinois Rep. Monique Davis, vice-chairperson of the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, had erred badly in sponsoring House Bill 466, a measure opposing charter school expansion in Chicago.

It is only fitting, therefore, that I commend Rep. Davis for her thoughtful reversal on this issue.

In the past few months, Rep. Davis has carefully investigated the merits of charter schools, and in May she sponsored a new bill that would have increased the number of charter schools in Chicago. House Bill 3361 would have allowed Chicago to use five of the unused charters allocated to the Chicago suburbs and downstate areas. The bill passed the House 114 to 1 but has unfortunately stalled in the Senate.

Even though the new charters authorized in Chicago under H.B. 3361 would have served only a specific subset of students—truants and dropouts—the bill would have been a step in the right direction. Rep. Davis’s change of heart is an encouraging example of how political leaders sometimes listen to their constituents and change their views. It is obvious from the number of parents on charter school waiting lists that Rep. Davis’s constituents want more, not fewer educational options for their children. Although her new bill has seemingly died in the Senate, the charter school issue is not going away any time soon.

We, the voters, must realize that our elected officials depend on us to inform them of our views. Sometimes we must hold our leaders accountable and criticize them, and sometimes we must encourage and support them. The promise of democracy is that through honest discussion and principled disagreement, people can reach decisions that benefit the community.

While we must preserve the freedom to differ ideologically, we cannot afford stalemates on life and death issues such as education and cultural competence.

The black community in Chicago is depending on Rep. Davis and her colleagues in Springfield to expand educational options so that all black children will receive a quality education. After all, education—or the lack thereof—is the single most important issue facing the black community today.

We must come together as a community, using all the resources and networks we possess, to create viable solutions to our common problems. I applaud Monique Davis for being part of the solution to one of our most pressing problems: the failure of public schools to educate our children.

Another achievement Rep. Davis’s constituents should be aware of is her work in forming the Illinois Amistad Commission. Although the concept took more than two years to reach completion, Rep. Davis persevered and convinced her fellow legislators to establish and fund the commission. The Amistad Commission aims to memorialize the transatlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery, and to educate the public about the contribution blacks have made to Illinois’ history.

Blacks in this country have overcome slavery, Jim Crow laws, and widespread racism in their quest for equality and social justice. The Amistad Commission will help younger generations appreciate the immense challenges blacks have overcome and the concerted effort required to guarantee our civil rights.

The Amistad Commission will conduct historical research and, with the help of the State Board of Education, make the results of its study available to students. The commission also will work with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency in producing its report.

The commission held its first meeting on May 26, 2007 at the Carter G. Woodson Library, which is named after the father of Negro History Week, now Black History Month. The mission of the Amistad Commission falls squarely in line with Dr. Woodson’s famous dictum, “we are not to celebrate Negro history, but the Negro in history.”

Blacks have been an integral part of this nation for nearly 400 years, and the Amistad Commission will illuminate blacks’ important contributions to American history by providing a helpful supplement to Illinois school textbooks. Thank you, Rep. Davis.

Lee Walker (lwalker@newcoalition.org) is president of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change and a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute.