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Miss. Group Forms National Parent Network

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A Jackson, Miss.-based citizens' organization has launched a five-year campaign to recruit a grassroots army of parents to support education reform across the nation.

The group, Parents for Public Schools, was founded in 1989 to halt "white flight'' from Jackson's public schools. (See Education Week, March 20, 1991.)

Leaders of the new effort, "Project Appleseed,'' hope to establish strong state-level Parents for Public Schools organizations comparable in stature to the state affiliates of the national teachers' unions and other groups.

"I honestly do believe that the only way America is going to solve a lot of its social problems is to improve its public schools,'' said Kevin Walker, the director of Parents for Public Schools' Midwest office, which will oversee the initiative.

Parents for Public Schools has targeted 11 states for the first year of expansion: California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

The group estimates that the project will cost $10 million to $15 million.

"Unlike teachers who have unions to provide information and needed services, parents have very little to fall back on,'' the press release on the initiative says. "The PTA and the PTO are effectively 28,000 small local organizations primarily focused on the need for bigger fund-raisers.''

Division of Parent Efforts Seen

Announcement of the campaign brought a negative response from the National PTA, however. Kathryn Whitfill, the president of the organization, charged that the new effort failed to acknowledge the existing efforts of the PTA to engage families in education reform and pass legislation beneficial to public schools.

"We are disappointed with the Parents for Public Schools' attempt to unnecessarily divide organizations working toward the same goal,'' Ms. Whitfill said in a statement. "It is much more constructive if like-minded groups joined forces to bring more parents into caring for all of our public schools.''

But the initiative elicited praise from other groups.

"I certainly don't see it as competitive, I see it as complementary,'' said Chrissie Bamber, the assistant executive director of the National Committee for Citizens in Education. "In fact, their doing their work is really essential to allowing us to do ours.''

Mr. Walker said the initiative would ultimately benefit PTA chapters across the country.

"We consider the PTA to be our friends,'' he said. "If we're successful, the PTA ranks are going to swell.''

The mission of Parents for Public Schools differs from that of the PTA, Mr. Walker said, because it actively seeks to involve middle-class parents who have abandoned the public schools, as well as those whose children still attend them.

Its primary objectives are "enrollment, involvement, and improvement,'' he said.

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