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.