Matthews vs CMS: Yes, the fight about charter schools is about race

Let's stop pretending we don’t have the foggiest notion what House Bill 514 is about. A bill that would allow municipalities like Matthews and Mint Hill to create their own tax-supported charters, where being a resident of those communities is the primary requirement for attendance, is a design for racial and economic segregation. Let’s just make it plain.

For the sake of argument, I won’t speculate on the personal motivations of the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Brawley, or the four Matthews commissioners who voted in favor of pursuing it, although I probably could. It almost doesn't matter, because it’s less about individual intentions and more about actual impact. Let’s focus on the facts.

FACT: Charlotte-Mecklenburg is segregated by race and income. This is not an accident or naturally occurring. This is the result of decades of deliberate policy decisions that discriminated against people of color (e.g. redlining, restrictive housing covenants, urban renewal, etc.).

FACT: Matthews is 80 percent white and has a median income 18 percent higher than rest of the county. These demographics are common for many suburban enclaves in America and facilitated by the legacy of “white flight” from cities in response to integration.

FACT: Propping up charters that give preference to “neighborhood” students in an already-segregated landscape merely solidifies a more white and affluent student population. When asked directly by school board member Elyse Dashew in a joint meeting last month whether this fact concerned him, Matthews town commissioner Kress Query replied, “No.”

FACT: The school board made numerous concessions to foster better relations and respond to student needs in Matthews. Despite this, proponents of HB 514 could not clearly articulate the shortcomings remedied specifically by a municipal charter, and rejected the offer.

The result of this will ultimately amount to systemic racism. It’s about a system, not personalities, that marginalize communities of color. Supporters of HB 514 do so either because, or in spite of, this fact.

The irony is, I don’t think many Matthews residents even support this measure. This is an area where more than 1,000 students go to a CMS school outside of the town limits and also overwhelmingly supported the school bond referendum last November. It did my heart good to hear of the many attendees speaking in opposition to HB 514. They made clear their love for the “small town” feel is not a proxy endorsement of segregation. This is a move more reflective of those in leadership.

In an environment where political correctness is decried and straight-talk is encouraged, it’s important not to nibble around the edges. There have been some relevant educational issues raised in this debate. But to act like race doesn’t have any influence is imaginative and inconsistent with American history. We’ve seen this before. Only this time it is not white flight, it’s building a “white fence.”

The reflexive denial of race’s role will not suffice this time around because as James Baldwin said, “I cannot believe what you say, because I see what you do”. I just want to let it be known, that I know (as do many others in the community), what is going on here. And we will call it out.

Ford is an independent educational consultant and also former CMS and North Carolina Teacher of the Year. Email: