Black leaders plan to speak out against public-school vouchers

Rally planned for Thursday outside Statehouse

COLUMBIA -- A prominent education group that opposes tax breaks or vouchers to defray private school tuition bills is girding for another battle in 2008 General Assembly.

The S.C. School Boards Association announced plans Friday to "launch ... a concerted effort by African-American leaders" willing to speak out against school-choice legislation. The organization will hold an event at 10 a.m. Thursday at the African- American History Monument on the Statehouse grounds.

Scheduled to appear are Ernest A. Finney Jr., the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and the Rev. Joe Darby, pastor of the Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston. Also invited to participate is former Gov. Dick Riley.

"Education has been seen by the African-American community as a way to go forward and advance," Darby said. "There are a lot of folks who agree with me and are concerned about the impact that vouchers will have on our education system.

"We need to make public education a priority first before you do something about private education," Darby said.

A nonprofit group of 300 black churches, calling itself Clergy for Educational Options, emerged recently as an ally to South Carolinians for Responsible Government, an organization of conservative Republicans that lobbies for school choice.

But Darby said he believes a larger group of black ministers and their congregations stand with the School Boards Association. He expressed hope more will step forward to talk about those views.

"The full voice about public education in South Carolina needs to be heard," Darby said.

Scott Price, the School Boards Association lobbyist, called the school choice debate "a major issue and one that has potential to do great harm for public education."

"That's why we felt it was important to have a message that basically affirms strong support, particularly within the African- American community, for public education," Price said.