fresh voices from the front lines of change







During tonight’s much anticipated debate between presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, education may not get much attention, but outside the debate hall, throngs of public education advocates will urge the contestants to address what they see as a calamity befalling their neighborhood schools.

Specifically, the protestors plan to single out “school privatization, public education cuts, and their impact on minority students” as targets for their grievances, according to a report in a Chicago news outlet, where many of the protestors are coming from. Between 750 and 800 protestors are expected to attend the event.

“We want the people who are aspiring to be president of this country to talk to the communities, the parents, the young people who have been impacted by corporate education interventions,” says Jitu Brown, one of the protest organizers. Brown is director of the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J), a national network of more than 40,000 active members of grassroots community organizations led primarily by people of color in 24 U.S. cities.

The rally and events preceding it are co-sponsored by the Network for Public Education Action, a national organization led by education historian Diane Ravitch.

The protest will “underscore community-based opposition to the destruction of community public schools and the rise of publicly funded, privately operated charter schools, school takeovers, and over-testing,” writes my colleague Julian Vasquez Heilig for The Progressive. Heilig, who is a university professor and public school activist, is also on the board of the Network for Public Education and plans to attend the event.

The two candidates’ proposals for education are often vague or heavily nuanced. For instance, on charter schools, Clinton has made both critical and supportive statements about these schools, and while Trump has been supportive of charters, his call for $20 billion in federal money to support “school choice” doesn’t explain where the money will come from.

On the issue of education funding, neither candidate has presented detailed proposals.

Meanwhile, education has become an extremely divisive issue around the country, especially in low-income communities of color. As Heilig explains in his blogpost, “Both sides in the education civil war have focused on communicating to policymakers and the public that they are representing the interests of black families whose communities have been deliberately left behind.”

Heilig continues, “Market-based school choice proponents’ primary agenda has been to promote privately operated ‘school choice’ as the fix for the education of poor children.”

In contrast, those opposed to the relentless expansion of charters call for reinvestment into existing schools, more equitable distribution of funding, and more holistic approaches to educating low-income students of color rather than the continued emphasis on high-stakes testing and “no excuses” discipline policies.

In the platform its proposing tonight, J4J is calling for a moratorium on charter school expansions, more funding for public schools, especially for “community schools’ that support students’ health and emotional needs, an end to policies that have created a “school to prison pipeline” for black and Hispanic students, and limitations to using test scores as rationales for closing schools, firing teachers, and depriving students of opportunities to learn.

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