Jay Chilton | January 31, 2017

School Choice Proponents Hold Summit, Detractors Hold Protest

Jay Chilton

Dr. Steve Perry addresses parents, students and education stakeholders at the inaugural Oklahoma School Choice Summit. [Photo by Jay Chilton, CIJ]

OKLAHOMA CITY ­― Parents, students and education stakeholders met at Oklahoma City Community College for the first annual Oklahoma School Choice Summit on Thursday, Jan. 26, to learn about opportunities and benefits afforded by current and possibly future education choice programs.

Questions and concerns were voiced and discussed during breakout sessions that focused on school reforms, public policy, charter schools, and school choice for racial minorities. The summit concluded with a joint session featuring a “State of the State in School Choice” address by Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, a panel discussion with four legislators moderated by former state Rep. Jason Nelson, awards for educational excellence, and a keynote address by school reformer Dr. Steve Perry.

Robert Ruiz, CEO of Choice Matters, speaks to the audience at the Summit. [Photo by Jay Chilton, CIJ]

Prior to the Summit, liberal activist organizations Red State Revolt and Occupy Education had indicated they would attempt to stop the event from proceeding. Activist and filmmaker Mark Faulk, the leader of both organizations, called for protesters to attend the event and disrupt the program. Faulk’s efforts gained publicity due to initial support from some public education leaders, including Midwest City – Del City Superintendent Rick Cobb and #OklaEd activist Claudia Swisher.

Event organizer Robert Ruiz, CEO of the pro-school choice group Choice Matters, told radio show host Trent England that he was contacted by OCCC police less than 48 hours before the event and asked to move to a different venue. Ruiz said that he was told that the college was concerned about a threat by Faulk to “do anything he had to do to shut the event down.”

Following negotiation with the college, the event was allowed to proceed and interested parties were asked to come to the summit as originally planned.

As attendees prepared to enter the main auditorium of OCCC’s Performing Arts Center, a fire alarm rang and campus police directed all attendees to exit the building. The all-clear was given shortly after and people were invited to reenter the event.

Approximately 20 individuals apparently linked to Occupy Education and Red State Revolt were denied access to the auditorium, though they were allowed into the lobby and to voice their opposition to the event.

Protest organizer Mark Faulk at the Summit. [Photo by Jay Chilton, CIJ]Among the protesters denied access, Faulk and about a dozen followers loudly demanded entry to the event and voiced their displeasure with recent and proposed education reforms designed to offer more education choices for parents and students.

“For those who don’t know,” Faulk yelled, “One more time, this is funded by the Koch Brothers. This is funded by ALEC. This is funded by the Walton Family Foundation. This is funded by Betsy DeVos, who is, right now, getting ready to be confirmed as Trump’s secretary of education, who, in turn, wants to turn half of the schools into charter schools and the other half into the prison pipeline from education.

“That’s what the problem is here. You put half the kids, you cherry-pick them, and you leave the other half behind. Mostly poor children and children of color. And you target them to go to prison. And to feed CCA and Geo Group in the prison industrial complex.

“If you allow charter schools to do this, education will die in Oklahoma.” When pressed for facts about Oklahoma charter schools to back up these claims, Faulk declined to offer examples.

The event and protests took placed on the same day the State School Board approved Oklahoma’s second rural charter school.

Jay Chilton

Independent Journalist

Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.

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