J4J Alliance Organizes Urban Parents to Demand Federal Dollars for Full-Service Community Schools

Throughout this autumn, we have been reading about loud protests at local school board meetings, protests against mask wearing and and honest teaching about slavery in American history.  These disruptive protests have been organized by groups like Parents Defending Education, Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, FreedomWorks, and  Parents’ Rights in Education. The strategy here is being scripted by far-right think tanks including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Goldwater Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Koch family foundations, and the Manhattan Institute.

But another important community organizing initiative, supported by the Schott Foundation for Public Education’s Opportunity to Learn Network and coordinated from place to place by the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J), has grown and solidified over the past decade. The Schott Foundation describes this work: “The Opportunity to Learn Network has been at the forefront of every major positive shift in public schooling for more than a decade: trailblazing education funding campaigns; kickstarting the school discipline reform movement, and establishing the community schools model as the future of the American schoolhouse. How do we win systemic change?  Through grassroots organizing.  Education justice philanthropy centers ‘on-the-ground’ organizing, building the power of the people closest to the problem, so they can transform the systems and structures that generate and reinforce racial injustice.”

A leader in this effort with the Schott Foundation is the Journey for Justice Alliance, which supports parent and student organizing in cities across the United States:

  • In New Jersey, the Camden Parents Union, the Concerned Citizens Coalition of Jersey City,  the Paterson Education Fund/Parent Education Organizing Council, and Parents United for Local School Education in Newark;
  • In New York, the Alliance for Quality Education, the Coalition for Education Justice, and the Urban Youth Collaborative;
  • In Pennsylvania, the Education Rights Network & One Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Student Union, Racial Justice Now, Youth On Board, and Youth United for Change;
  • In Michigan, the Detroit Life Coalition, and Keep the Vote No Takeover of Detroit;
  • In Illinois, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization of Chicago, and the Lugenia Burns Hope Center in Chicago;
  • In Massachusetts, the Boston-area Youth Organizing Project, and Parents on the Move;
  • In California, the Oakland Public Education Network;
  • In Kansas, Kansas Justice Advocates;
  • In Wisconsin, Schools and Communities United of Milwaukee;
  • In Arkansas, Grassroots Arkansas; and
  • In Connecticut, the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition.

Earlier this week at the National Press Club, the Schott Foundation and J4J convened allies—the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD and Congressmen Jamal Bowman (D-NY) and Chuy Garcia (D-IL)—to support the Equity or Else Campaign and to advocate for the educational equity initiatives in President Biden’s proposed federal budget for the current fiscal year. Two of the most important items in Biden’s budget proposal are, first, doubling Title I funding, which supports public schools serving concentrations of children living in poverty, and second, allocating more than $443 million for full-service, wraparound Community Schools, a significant increase over this year’s $30 million investment.

The federal budget is always supposed to be passed by September 30, but Congress has, as usual, delayed the vote with a series of continuing resolutions. To avoid a government shutdown this week, Congress passed another continuing resolution until February 8, 2022.  The Equity or Else Commission will hold town hall meetings, undertake “listening projects with people in under-served communities across the country,” and organize local community members to advocate for President Biden’s education priorities.

In an article last summer for The Progressive, education writer Jeff Bryant explained why President Biden’s proposal to expand full-service Community Schools—which locate medical, dental, mental health, and social services right in the school—signifies a radical and much needed shift in the direction of federal public education policy:  “President Joe Biden’s first budget request for the U.S. Department of Education signals a significant departure from the education policy priorities of previous presidential administrations. And not just a shift from the priorities of the Trump Administration, which was expected, but also from those of the Obama years.  It’s a welcome sign that the era of blaming teachers for low test scores may finally be coming to an end… Obama’s first budget request for the Department of Education, submitted to Congress in 2009, was all about fiscal austerity and accountability. It called for cutting Title I funds—the federal government’s program to support high-poverty schools—and shifting $1 billion from that program to grants for highly disruptive federal interventions in ‘low-performing’ public schools (read schools with low test scores).”

Bryant continues: “The Obama Administration, through policies like Race to the Top, incentivized states to adopt a ‘no-excuses’ approach… that punished schools and teachers for low test scores…. During the Obama years, legislation to fund the Full-Service Community Schools Program was introduced in 2011 and submitted again in 2014, but it never passed out of committee. Then in 2015, two amendments to the Every Student Succeeds Act… authorized a full-service Community Schools grant program and made program coordinators an allowable use of federal funds. Under Obama the program’s budget was a mere $9.7 million in 2015 and $10 million in 2016… Under Trump, Congress managed to boost funding for the program to $30 million, where it stands today.”

Kudos to the Schott Foundation and the Journey for Justice Alliance for convening allies and organizing parents to demand support for the schools in our nation’s poorest communities. President Biden’s proposal to expand the federal budget for full-service Community Schools from $30 million to $443 million will, if enacted by Congress, be a ground-breaking investment to better equip public schools to serve families. Grassroots action by all of the member organizations of the Journey for Justice Alliance is urgently needed to ensure that this exciting expansion of Community Schools is fully realized.

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After Three Decades, New York Legislature Finally Passes Budget To Equalize Public School Funding

In 2007, New York State agreed to comply with a court mandate to invest five and a half billion dollars over four years—and maintain the investment annually—to equalize school funding in a state with vast differences in wealth and alarming disparities in public school funding across its 688 public school districts.  But in 2008, when the Great Recession hit, New York never invested the promised money in the education of the state’s children.

Last week, however, when both chambers of the state legislature agreed on the 2021-2022 state budget, New York promised once again to invest substantially in the education of its children and finally to comply with the court’s requirement, under the decision in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. New York, for a legislative remedy.

Rochesterfirst.com reports: “The FY 2022 Enacted Budget provides $29.5 billion in State funding to school districts for the 2021-22 school year through School Aid, the highest level of State aid ever, supporting the operational costs of school districts that educate 2.5 million students statewide. This investment represents an increase of $3.0 billion (11.3 percent) compared to the 2020-21 school year, including a $1.4 billion (7.6 percent) Foundation Aid increase. Approximately 75 percent of this increase is targeted to high-need school districts.”

The NY Daily News’ Michael Elsen-Rooney explains the implications for the public schools in New York City, where over 1 million of the state’s children are enrolled in the nation’s largest school district: “A state budget agreement… includes a long-awaited windfall for New York City schools that could pad the city education budget by more than $1 billion annually by 2023.  Legislative budget documents… include an agreement to fully fund the state’s court-mandated ‘Foundation Aid’ formula for distributing money to school districts based on need. State education funding currently falls about $4 billion short of the amount the formula calls for—a shortfall that advocates and lawmakers have been fighting to reverse for more than a decade. The budget agreement will phase in the additional funding over three years, with state foundation aid spending likely to increase by roughly $1.4 billion each of the next three years.  When the additional funds are fully phased in, the city’s education budget could grow by more than $1 billion a year by 2023, advocates and analysts say.”

Last week’s legislative victory in New York has been a long time coming. For two decades, New York’s Alliance for Quality Education has led statewide organizing in the fight for fair school funding.  AQE’s executive director, Jasmine Gripper thanks all those who have worked with AQE over the years to stand up for New York’s children: “We are so humbled by every one of the parents, community leaders, students, educators, and elected officials who have stood alongside us through the years and never stopped pushing New York to finally do right by our students and fund the state’s own equitable school funding formula Foundation Aid. The Alliance for Quality Education has worked with our coalition partners Citizen Action of New York, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, and the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice to build a statewide force of parent power to lead and anchor this fight. The fight to hold the State to its obligation to fund public education has always been deeply steeped in racial justice; the majority of Foundation Aid remaining is due to school districts with 40 percent or more Black and Latinx students. The full funding of Foundation Aid that will be provided to schools over the next three years represents a major step toward racial and economic equity in education.”

The Schott Foundation for Public Education credits the work of the Alliance for Quality Education and its partners for the work that paid off in New York’s new budget: “But the Campaign for Fiscal Equity was always more than just a lawsuit: it was at the heart of a renaissance of educational justice organizing across the state… While attorneys were making arguments in courthouses, there were parents, students, and educators rallying on the steps outside. Academics and researchers pored through spreadsheets and made records requests to find out just how much schools were being underfunded. Parents and students organized in their schools and neighborhoods to educate and organize their peers. And seasoned advocates were making ever-stronger cases for funding equity to policymakers under the capitol dome in Albany… In the last several years, the hard-fought battles, consistent parent and youth organizing—and two 150 mile marches to Albany—began to pay off.”

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity filed the lawsuit for equitable school funding in 1993. The Schott Foundation examines the purpose of the lawsuit and the serious injustice that has persisted for New York’s children until last week: “The 2021-22 New York State budget meets a thirty-year-old demand and thirteen-year-old broken promise: equitably fund New York State’s public schools so that no matter what zip code a child resides in, there is a baseline of quality their public schools can afford to meet. The massive, downright Dickensian difference in funding between schools that sometimes are mere blocks from each other has been a hallmark of New York’s public education system for generations. In 2012, a Schott Foundation report on the particularly stark disparities in New York City described it as educational redlining: schools with predominantly white children were far better funded—and unsurprisingly, had higher academic outcomes—than schools with predominantly Black and Latinx children. We found similar disparity with income as well… ‘A black or Hispanic student, or a student of any race or ethnicity from a low-income household, is most likely to be enrolled in one of the city’s poorest performing high schools.'”

“By 2012, it shouldn’t have been that way. Five years earlier, in 2007, the 13-year Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit concluded in a victory for public schools: New York State agreed, under court mandate, to commit more than $5.5 billion in funding over four years to equitably fund all public schools. 70% of that funding was to go to the lowest-income school districts, whose property tax bases couldn’t compare with those of wealthier cities and neighborhoods.  However, this funding, known as Foundation Aid, never fully materialized.  Between the 2008 financial crisis and a wave of budget cuts by legislators, what should have been a decade of equity became one of austerity.”

Minneapolis and Growing List of Other School Districts Cease Employing Armed Police as School Resource Officers

In the aftermath of the tragic police killing of George Floyd and the widespread protests of police brutality that have followed, the Schott Foundation for Public Education comments: “We want to lift up one ray of hope in this dark moment: The Minneapolis Board of Education made in important step… when it voted to sever its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department… which until now had been the recipient of more than $1 million in education funds to put its officers in schools… The danger of police officers in schools—and their contribution to creating the school-to-prison pipeline that threatens so many children of color—is well documented and their removal has been a central demand of education justice organizations that Schott is proud to support….”

Several school districts have followed the lead of the Minneapolis Board of Education including the schools of Rochester, New York, and Portland, OregonIt also looks as though the members of the Denver, Colorado Board of Education will vote to terminate the employment of police school resource officers, known everywhere these days as SROs.

In a  short, 2015 guidance document, the American Civil Liberties Union explains why police guards do not belong in public schools: “Many under-resourced schools become pipeline gateways by placing increased reliance on police rather than teachers and administrators to maintain discipline. Growing numbers of districts employ school resource officers to patrol school hallways, often with little or no training in working with youth.  As a result, children are far more likely to be subject to school-based arrests—the majority of which are for nonviolent offenses, such as disruptive behavior—than they were a generation ago.  The rise in school-based arrests, the quickest route from the classroom to the jailhouse, most directly exemplifies the criminalization of school children.”  The ACLU condemns “zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances. Under these policies, students have been expelled for bringing nail clippers or scissors to school. Rates of suspension have increased dramatically in recent years—from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000—and have been most dramatic for children of color. Overly harsh disciplinary policies push students down the pipeline and into the juvenile justice system. Suspended and expelled children are often left unsupervised and without constructive activities; they also can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and dropouts.”

Jason P. Nance of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, examines the growing use of school resource officers and the simultaneous growth in the number of students arrested: “In the late 1970s, there were fewer than one hundred police officers in our public schools, but this number grew significantly in the years that followed…. (I)n 1997, there were approximately 12,300 SROs employed by local law enforcement agencies nationwide.  In 2003, the number of full time SROs jumped to 19,900.  In 2007, the number of SROs dropped slightly to 19,088.”

Nance continues: “Although lawmakers, police departments, and school officials expanded SRO programs to enhance school safety in the wake of rising juvenile crime rates and high-profile school shootings, they… expanded SRO programs despite the potentially harmful effects that SROs may have on the educational setting.  For example, strict security measures in and of themselves can harm the educational climate by alienating students and generating mistrust, which, paradoxically, may lead to even more disorder and violence. Furthermore, putting more SROs in schools may involve more students in the criminal justice system, even for low-level violations of school behavioral codes. Indeed, perhaps the most significant challenge of having SROs in schools is that while SROs may be in schools primarily to enhance school safety, many SROs also become involved in student disciplinary matters that educators traditionally have handled and should continue to handle… The problems with SROs handling student disciplinary issues are multifaceted.  Whereas teachers and school officials have advanced academic credentials, receive training in child psychology, discipline, pedagogy, and educational theory, and are accountable to local school boards, SROs are trained in law enforcement, have little or no training in developmental psychology or pedagogy, and are not accountable to school boards. Thus, an SRO’s decision to arrest a student may be based on criteria that are wholly distinct from and even anathema to the best interests of the student or the school as a whole.”

As students are arrested, they are propelled into the juvenile justice system. A 2018 report from the Dignity in Schools Campaign, Police in Schools Are Not the Answer to School Shootings, documents racial bias that too frequently accompanies in-school policing: “Research shows that police officers perceive Black youth differently than they do white youth, and this bias, not any actual difference in behavior, leads to the over-criminalization of students of color.  Police see Black children as less “childlike” than their White peers and overestimate the age and culpability of Black children accused of an offense more than they do for white children accused of an offense…  There are significant harms to young people attending schools that over-police. Research shows that a first-time arrest doubles the odds that a student will drop out of high school, and a first-time court appearance quadruples the odds. The American Psychological Association, Council of State Governments, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have all found that extreme discipline, including arrests, predict grade retention, school dropout, and future involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  As a result, students face lasting consequences, not only in the justice system, but also when applying for college, the military, or a job.”

Advancement Project has worked for over a decade with other national organizations and school districts to create a respectful overall school climate through the development and implementation of restorative discipline. Restorative discipline emphasizes learning over punishment with the explicit goal of helping students more fully engage in school.  In an online resource for educators, Restorative Practices: Fostering Healthy Relationships & Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools, Advancement Project explains: “Restorative justice is an evidence-based practice effectively used to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and disciplinary referrals. Restorative justice focuses on righting a wrong committed and repairing the harm done… Community conferencing… involves the participation of each person affected by the behavior and allows all stakeholders to contribute to the conflict resolution process.  Community service allows for individuals to restore a harm they may have committed to the school community by providing a meaningful service that contributes to their individual improvement.  Peer juries allow student who have broken a rule and trained student jurors to collectively discuss why the rule was broken, who was affected and how the referred student can repair the harm caused… Conflict resolution programs provide students with problem-solving and self control skills… Peer mediation is a demonstrably effective youth leadership model that trains students to help other students resolve their differences… Informal restorative practices are small ways educators and other school personnel can influence a positive environment… Social-emotional learning teaches skills such as recognizing and managing emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically.”

Advancement Project explains how restorative practices transform the school climate: “Restorative practices… can improve relationships between students, between students and educators, and even between educators, whose behavior often serves as a role model for students. They allow each member of the school community to develop and implement a school’s adopted core values. Restorative practices also represent a mindset that can help guide adult and youth behavior and relationship management in schools… When the whole school is infused with restorative strategies, it becomes easier to address issues faster and respond in a thoughtful way because the caring and supportive culture is already present.”

One positive development following the tragic police killing of George Floyd and the nationwide outpouring of grief and outrage has been that a growing number of school districts are choosing to handle student discipline in the school itself without armed police patrolling their school hallways and pushing students into the juvenile justice system.

For more resources on the school-to-prison pipeline and problems with armed police employed as school resource officers, check the websites of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, Teaching Tolerance and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Will Congress Provide Fiscal Relief to Public Schools at an Austerity, Subsistence, or Investment Level?

In a NY Times column last week, David Brooks responded to the tragic police killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, and the massive protests responding to the evident racism and inequality that underpin our society: “This moment is about police brutality, but it’s not only about police brutality. The word I keep hearing is ‘exhausted.’ People are exhausted by and fed up with the enduring wealth disparities between white and black, with the health disparities that leave black people more vulnerable to Covid-19, with the centuries-long disparities in violence and the threat of violence, with daily indignities on African-Americans and stains that linger on our nation decade after decade. The killing of George Floyd happened in a context—and that context is racial disparity. Racial disparity doesn’t make for gripping YouTube videos. It doesn’t spark mass protests because it’s not an event; it’s just the daily condition of our lives. It’s just a condition that people in affluent Manhattan live in one universe and people a few miles away in the Bronx live in a different universe. It’s just a condition that many black families send their kids to struggling inner-city schools while white families move to the suburbs and put on black T-shirts every few years to protest racial injustice.”

Brooks correctly identifies the problem: Structural inequality, segregation, and racism permeate our society.  But when it comes to a solution, Brooks looks to individuals, grants to neighborhood groups, and social entrepreneurship. Despite that injustice always involves systemic problems and that justice requires eliminating disparities in the system itself, Brooks suggests national service programs for young people, an endowment for civic architecture, Moving to Opportunity Grants, and even the Betsy DeVos solution, education savings account school vouchers for private education services (with the money coming out of public school budgets) to give parents a choice.

Last week, instead, advocating for federal relief funds for the Covid-19 recession, the National Education Policy Center, the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the Righteous Rage Institute released a plea to Congress not only for enough federal relief dollars to get our public schools running next fall, but also for enough to at least begin addressing historically unequal school funding between rural and urban schools that serve poor children and black and brown children, and the suburban schools that serve primarily privileged white children. The policy brief, released last Thursday, demands that Congress begin confronting structural inequality in the public schools that serve 50 million American children and adolescents, structural inequality epitomized by the alarming unwillingness of states to raise enough through taxes to make up for the uneven local taxing capacities across the nation’s school districts. Even though the state constitutions require formulas to direct more state funds to the school districts which cannot raise enough education dollars locally, those constitutional clauses have been ignored for too long.  Now that state education budgets are collapsing due to job losses, it is likely that those disparities between public services for rich and poor districts will only worsen.

The policy brief, written by Frank Adamson of California State University at Sacramento, Allison Brown of the Righteous Rage Institute for Social Justice, and Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado, demands that Congress consider this question: “If policymakers are willing and able to put trillions toward supporting wealthy investors and bolstering financial markets, how can they deny a fraction of that to our children to save their futures?”

The policy brief begins with a reminder to a Congress which has delayed further fiscal relief to states whose budgets have already begun collapsing: “Let’s be clear: these budget cuts are a political choice by the federal government, which can remedy the situation.”  While, before Memorial Day, the House passed the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), a bill including stimulus dollars to relieve pressure on state budgets, the Senate has delayed consideration of this bill.

Adamson, Brown, and Welner outline three options for Congress: “austerity, subsistence, or investment. Austerity—states suffer budget shortfalls unaided by the federal government, leading to massive teacher layoffs and other resource deprivation. Subsistence—the federal government backfills state budgets to maintain the status quo. Investment—the federal government uses this crisis as an opportunity to drive national renewal for our public education system. These options present a core policy choice. Instead of an estimated trillion dollars in overall state budget cuts, the federal government can deploy the same Keynesian approach that got us out of the Great Depression: short-term deficit spending as a public investment to address our present crisis and to increase our potential for generations to come.” (emphasis in the original)

Noting that the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)—the federal stimulus after the 2008 Great Recession—was too limited, the new policy brief addresses a primary concern about current efforts so far to remedy the financial collapse during the current COVID-19 recession—its failure to protect services for children: “The current choices represent a stark contrast. While the federal government has thus far balked at substantially supporting states and local governments, and while it has provided very limited aid to the average person struggling to pay bills in a decimated economy, private investors making risky bets have received ample support. Through the Federal Reserve Bank, the federal government has assured investors that they can continue making those risky bets—or what should be risky bets in a true market system—with very little actual risk… This is an interesting and compelling framing, and it raises the question of whether there is a dollar limit on the future of the nation’s children.”

Adamson, Brown and Welner continue: “In truth, the federal government is uniquely positioned to make large investments in times of crisis to save industries. Such stimulus spending is worth the short-term expenditure because of the long-term payoff of economic recovery… But the federal government is also uniquely positioned to save the public sector…. Stimulus spending in public education has three, interrelated benefits: (a) preserving a foremost public good that is the linchpin for societal well-being; (b) assisting in the economic recovery by providing current jobs and future tax revenues; and (c) preparing high-skilled, high-wage earners who will contribute to the future economy.”

How much federal support do states need to at least maintain the public schools as we knew them before March of 2020? “Public education experts across the country are calling for $175 to $200 billion in federal stimulus funding for PreK-12 education, to cover estimated shortfalls to state and local funding for schools over the next two years. This amount would be the bare minimum needed to fill state and local gaps imposed by the crisis on school budgets; it would simply maintain the current resources in our education system… School closures (this spring) have intensified academic inequities while also exacerbating vast inequalities in access to basic needs.”

The authors enumerate all the academic programs, social services, and child care services schools provide for children, and point out the implications for 50 million children when school resources collapse: “When these resources disappear from schools, they can disappear from children’s lives. This is in part because we ask our public schools to compensate or substitute for missing or inadequate welfare systems… In fact, a core American belief is that our schools play the role of the ‘great equalizer.’  We ask and expect schools to provide the nation’s children with an education that will somehow be of such high quality that it will overcome all the inequalities of larger society. As irrational as that sounds, politicians have made the promise even more absurd by consistently underfunding those same schools. Public education systems have consistently borne the brunt of budget cuts—even in times of economic growth… The impact of education cuts and loss of teaching jobs has never affected all children equally. African American, Native American, Latinx, and low-income children are the hardest hit by austerity… The Great Recession deprived all districts of resources, but it hit the poorest hardest. Affluent school districts lost about $500 per student in state funding, on average, compared to high-poverty districts that lost over $1,500 per student.”

The National Education Policy Center, the Schott Foundation, and The Righteous Rage Institute demand that Congress do more than preserving long-running austerity in the poorest districts or merely just passing enough stimulus dollars to replace state and local dollars being lost due to the recession:

“Our policy makers are on the edge of a precipice. If they step into the budget-cut austerity abyss at this time of great crisis, they will be choosing to harm the nation’s children, and in doing so, to devalue the country’s most important asset. Recovery would become a long and arduous process… As one alternative, they can choose the stopgap, subsistence option of backfilling state and local budgets, which we contend is necessary but not sufficient… The third choice available to policymakers is stimulus investment devoted to our schools and children, especially children of color, in their time of great need, which would provide the extra benefit of saving jobs and creating new jobs to help in combating national unemployment… Refusing the needed funding for public education systems means impoverishing our youth, our communities, our public life—our democracy…  If policymakers are willing and able to put $4.5 trillion of Fed lending into bolstering financial markets through treasury funding, how can they deny a fraction of that to our children to save their futures?”

The new policy brief from NEPC, the Schott Foundation, and the Righteous Rage Institute demands that Congress address the unacceptable racial and economic disparities that underpin our nation’s public schools because of long-running inadequate and inequitable investment —a condition that the Covid-19- driven recession has only exacerbated.

A Primer for the Public Education Voter in this Fall’s Midterm Election

The midterm election is only weeks away. The airwaves are filled with attack ads that sensationalize and distort the issues.  Even in states where public education has not emerged as a central issue, it ought to be, because K-12 education and higher education are among the biggest lines in every state’s budget.  Without naming states and without naming candidates or particular ballot issues, today’s blog will serve as a voters’ primer about what to consider on November 6, if you think of yourself a public education voter. These reports present simple information about each state.  If a candidate for your legislature or governor, for example, claims to be an “education” candidate, having invested significantly in education, you can check his or her promises against the facts.  I hope you’ll take a look at how your state has been supporting or failing to support the mass of children who attend public schools and the teachers who serve them.

The Network for Public Education and the Schott Foundation for Public Education put the importance of public schools into perspective: “In fact, the overwhelming majority of students in this country continue to attend public schools with total public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 12 projected to increase by 3 percent from 50.3 million to 51.7 million students. This compares with a 6% enrollment in charter schools and a 10.2% enrollment in private schools, with the majority (75% of private school students) attending religious private schools.”

In 1899, the philosopher of education, John Dewey explained the public purpose of education: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children… Only by being true to the full growth of all the individuals who make it up, can society by any chance be true to itself.” (The School and Society, p. 1)

Public schools are the institutions most likely to balance the needs of each particular child and family with a system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children.  Public schools are publicly owned, publicly funded, and democratically governed under law.  Because public schools are responsible to the public, it is possible through elected school boards, open meetings, transparent record keeping and redress through the courts to ensure that public schools provide access for all children. No school is likely to perfectly serve all children, but because public schools are subject to government regulation under law, our society has been able to protect the right to an education for an ever growing number of children over the generations.

Key Resources for Voters in Fall, 2018—Public School Funding

The current decade began as the Great Recession devastated state budgets. While some states have recovered, many have struggled, and some have further cut taxes.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ most recent update on public K-12 funding across the states is A Punishing Decade for School Funding, dated November 29, 2017.  This is the essential annual report comparing public K-12 investment across the states. The numbers remain discouraging: We learn that 29 states continue to provide less total state funding for public schools than they did in 2008, prior to the Great Recession. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also just released its annual report on higher education funding: Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity, which notes that in 31 states, per-student funding for public colleges and universities dropped between 2017 and 2018, while average tuition has continued to rise. Along with its report on higher education, CBPP even provides an online tool by which you can call up a short, detailed brief on higher education funding trends in each state.

In May of this year, the American Federation of Teachers published its own fine report on funding of public education across the states, A Decade of Neglect, which concluded: “(C)uts states have made since the Great Recession have led to reduced student math and English achievement, and this was most severe for school districts serving more low-income and minority students, especially in districts that saw large reductions in the numbers of teachers.”  The report describes overall trends followed by a series of two page briefs summarizing and presenting graphically the public school funding trend in each state since the 2004-2005 school year.

Key Resource for Voters in Fall, 2018—Marketplace School Privatization Undermines Democracy and Robs Public Schools of Essential Resources

In his 2007 book, Consumed, the late political philosopher Benjamin Barber reflects on the commodification of public institutions: “It is the peculiar toxicity of privatization ideology that it rationalizes corrosive private choosing as a surrogate for the public good.  It enthuses about consumers as the new citizens who can do more with their dollars… than they ever did with their votes. It associates the privileged market sector with liberty as private choice while it condemns democratic government as coercive.” (Consumed, p. 143)

Not only is school privatization undemocratic, but it also drains state funding away from public school districts into charter schools and various kinds of tuition vouchers for private school. School privatization laws differ across the states along with the amount of money driven out of state public education budgets into the various school privatization schemes. In June of this year, the Network for Public Education and the Schott Foundation for Public Education jointly published Grading the States: A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools. The report’s introduction states its purpose: “States are rated on the extent to which they have instituted policies and practices that lead toward fewer democratic opportunities and more privatization, as well as the guardrails they have (or have not) put into place to protect the rights of students, communities and taxpayers. The report ranks the states by the degree to which they have privatized education.

Barber summarizes privatization’s corrosive role—fragmenting and undermining our society: “Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck.  Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

As you vote in this fall’s election, please consider the resources suggested here as well as the principles that define public education’s public role in our society.

Instead of Building More Charter Schools for the Few, Improve Public Education for All

Roland S. Martin is a journalist and the host and managing editor of TV One’s News One Now. For years he has promoted market-based school choice. He recently moderated a town hall, “Is School Choice the Black Choice?” at Howard University. All the while Martin has been promoting school choice, Dr. John Jackson and the Schott Foundation for Public Education (of which John Jackson is the President and CEO) have instead made the case for closing opportunity gaps in the public schools as the responsibility of a just society.  Here in a short, two-minute video from the Howard University town hall, is John Jackson, challenging Martin’s “false narrative” that public schools have failed the African American community. I urge you to watch the short video.

The town hall at Howard University followed the adoption last month of a resolution by the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, demanding investment in improving the public schools that serve the majority of children in our nation’s poorest schools and a moratorium on the expansion of charters until:

  • “Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools.
  • “Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.
  • “Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate.
  • “(Charter schools) cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

Back in 2011, John Jackson was part of another panel moderated by Roland Martin. On that occasion, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was also one of the speakers.  As Martin continued to push the speakers to support school choice as the best way to meet the needs of our society’s poorest children, Rev. Jackson declared: “There are those who would make the case for a ‘race to the top’ for those who can run. But ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”  In the recent video, John Jackson asks how many Howard University students in the room attended public schools. When a mass of hands go up, Jackson notes all the high achieving African American public school graduates at Howard University and wonders, since most American students attend traditional public schools, why the better strategy for supporting black students wouldn’t be to ensure that the public schools in poorer African American communities are resourced generously.

The Schott Foundation’s headquarters is in Cambridge, and in A Question of Better Education for All, John Jackson elaborates on why improving the public schools that serve the many is a better idea than Massachusetts Question 2 that would lift the cap on the charter schools that serve the few: “For the past decade, Massachusetts has led the nation in academic achievement. Our students have even been top ranked internationally in a time when the country’s educational outcomes have slid year by year.  Massachusetts accomplished this by taking bold steps that impact all students, most importantly changing the state’s school funding system to invest more in schools in high need, low-income areas so that all students have a better opportunity to achieve. There is still critical work to be done to close persistent opportunity gaps in the system, but we won’t get there if we go in completely the wrong direction.  This would be to allow state officials to give up on investing in improving a system that serves all students in need.”

Jackson elaborates: “When charter schools, which now serve only 4% of the state’s public school students, were added to the Massachusetts model, they were never intended to be a comprehensive ‘education plan’ for a state or locality, but rather an experiment that might provide sparks of innovation whose best practices would be integrated into the main system. It is in that system that the great majority—a full 96%—of Massachusetts students are educated… Public schools and an equal commitment to all children are pillars of our democratic system… Charters run directly counter to this democratic value.”

“When the corporate concept of ‘competition’ is used to justify the argument for increasing the number of charter schools (and student enrollment in them), we need only remind ourselves that competition means winners and losers. Why would voters ever want to substitute that value for a commitment to ensuring a high quality education for every child?… Expanding the number of charter schools reinforces a caste system of private, charter and public schools… Equal education for all breaks the cycle of intergenerational poverty; it is the path to economic opportunity.  Investing in a great education for all children in the Commonwealth is the only way to create a broad-based, diverse, well-educated workforce that is a magnet for employers and can fuel economic growth across the state.  It also ensures full participation in our democratic society.”

Schott Foundation-NEPC Infographic Depicts What’s Necessary for Justice in Our Schools

Twitter was all-a-twitter last Friday about the new infographic, Lifting All Children Up, from the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the National Education Policy Center.  I think this educational resource deserves more careful attention than Twitter can provide, however, because it not only defines and locates our society’s biggest educational challenges, but it outlines the strategy we must undertake to undo years of injustice.  Take a look here:

balloons-nepc-infographicWhile the Bush and Obama administrations under the federal No Child Left Behind Act told us that we could reform our schools to help the students who need help by punishing teachers and closing schools, by privatizing and charterizing, and by testing and doubling down on standards, the school-based strategy outlined here by the Schott Foundation and the National Education Policy Center would invest in experienced and expertly trained teachers, expand pre-Kindergarten preparation, offer family supports in Community Schools, affirm children’s own language and culture at school, fund schools adequately and equitably, and reduce class size to ensure that caring, prepared teachers and other adults have enough support and small enough classes to have meaningful relationships with students.

But, according to the experts at the National Education Policy Center and philanthropists at the Schott Foundation, school-centric reforms cannot by themselves ensure opportunity for children who are living in shelters or doubled up with relatives or strangers, for children whose parents cannot earn a living wage even when they work full time in the service economy, for children who are hungry or lack healthcare.  “The evidence is clear: when obstacles are removed and students are given the resources to thrive, and when families and neighbors are meaningfully included in school communities, all students learn more.”

My favorite definition of justice in our society’s institutions like public schools comes from an ethicist, J. Philip Wogaman, who frames his definition in the theology of Christianity.  His definition could as well be contextualized in any of the world’s major religions:  “Justice is the community’s guarantee of the conditions necessary for everybody to be a participant in the common life of society.  Ultimately that notion has theological roots. If we are, finally, brothers and sisters through the providence of God, then it is unjust to treat people as though they did not belong. And it is just to structure institutions and laws in such a way that communal life is enhanced and individuals are provided full opportunity for participation.” (Christian Perspectives on Politics, pp. 216-217. Emphasis in the original).

Much of our politics today blames the victims, in this case the teachers and students who fill America’s poorest schools.  For too long we have assumed that public schools in the poorest communities can simply pull themselves up. Strategies that slash state taxes and reduce resources for public education cannot fulfill the clear and simple vision outlined in this excellent new resource from the Schott Foundation and the National Education Policy Center.  A good society would create the political will to guarantee an opportunity to learn for every child.