Law & Principles
Ray Carter | April 5, 2023
Lawmaker’s racial comment draws pushback
A recent rally at the Oklahoma Capitol drew hundreds of people from across the state, representing a wide range of backgrounds with attendees calling on lawmakers to enact broad-based school-choice policies.
But a significant share of those attendees were dismissed by one lawmaker, apparently based on their skin color.
State Rep. John Waldron, a Tulsa Democrat who is white, tweeted that prior the start of the rally, the assembling crowd was “small and mostly white, until three charter buses disembarked students from Crossover Preparatory.”
He then added, “I felt as though these kids were being used as pawns.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “pawn” to mean “one that can be used to further the purposes of another.”
Crossover Preparatory Academy is a private Christian college-preparatory secondary school in north Tulsa. It was founded to provide a better academic future for the working-class and largely minority population of students it serves. All students at the school receive full scholarships to allow them to attend.
Wade Moore, the founder of a similar school in Kansas, Urban Prep Academy in Wichita, was a featured speaker at the recent rally (as pictured above). Moore, who is black, said Waldron’s comment isn’t the first time that line of attack has been used against school-choice supporters from minority backgrounds. Moore said those airing that criticism often do not understand the needs of families like those he serves.
“I’ve testified before a lot of committees, have been doing a lot of this stuff across the nation,” Moore said. “And I’ve had some lawmakers come to me and say, ‘They’re just using you as an African American to get what they want.’ When people say things like that, they don’t know what I want. They don’t know that I’m for this. We need this. Our community, our children need this.”
Those attending the rally urged support for passage of legislation that will allow more families to use their tax dollars to pay for private school tuition. This year’s debate has centered on a proposal that could provide a tax credit of $5,000 to $7,500 per child for private-school tuition.
Academic outcomes in Oklahoma public schools generally land among the bottom 10 states, but the results are even worse among specific segments, particularly students located in the state’s urban areas.
In the 2021-2022 school year, state testing showed just 10 percent of African American students in Oklahoma schools tested proficient or better in all grades and subjects, but the results were even worse in the Tulsa school district where just 4 percent of African American students tested proficient or better. Pre-COVID results were better, but only marginally so.
Many Crossover Prep students would be enrolled in Tulsa’s public schools if not for the existence of the private school.
Moore said critics should listen to the children and families who showed up at the rally before dismissing them.
“If they could see the enthusiasm of the children that showed up, and if they knew their story, and if they knew how far the children have come in their educational journey since they’ve been involved in schools like the one represented there from Tulsa—Crossover—they would understand that families want this,” Moore said.
Crossover Prep admitted its first class of 7th graders in the fall of 2017, and more than doubled in size each of the next two school years.
That type of rapid growth is a product of families proactively choosing to attend the school, Moore noted. He has seen a similar trend at Urban Prep Academy, which is similar to Crossover Prep. Urban Prep Academy has been in operation for nine years and has slowly expanded over time. That expansion is the product of success and local support, Moore said.
“We go up to eighth grade, but now we’re going to scale up through high school because this is what parents want,” Moore said. “I have parents saying they don’t want their children leaving the school. I have students saying they don’t want to leave the school. With that, it’s not anybody ‘using them’ or they’re ‘pawns.’ These are choices that they are making.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.