As part of a national effort coordinated by Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, teachers, parents, and students protested lack of funding and other issues affecting the quality of education in public schools this week.
Cities participating in Thursday morning’s “walk-ins” include Oakland, Los Angeles, Orlando, Phoenix, Little Rock, Dallas, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, New York City, Toledo, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Racine, to name a few. In February, thousands of people in over 30 cities participated in similar walk-ins coordinated by AROS.
The coalition organizing the protests is calling for better funding for public schools, especially in communities of color; ending the expansion of charter schools; ending harsh student discipline approaches; and promoting community schools, which provide services to students on or near the school campus. Those services can include mental health assistance, food pantries, or access to computers after school, depending on what the particular community needs.
— East Forsyth High (@EFeagles) October 6, 2016
“The AROS walk-ins are about the need to invest in our students — particularly Black and Brown students,” said Keron Blair, director of AROS, in a statement sent to ThinkProgress. “We want the next president to close the Wall St. billionaire tax loopholes that rob our public schools of the money they need to provide our children with the education they deserve. Many schools in Black and Brown communities across the country are called failing. But it is the students, parents and educators that have been failed.”
According to AROS, the majority of the walk-ins are tied to fights over revenue, particularly in Chicago, Los Angeles, and across Massachusetts. Large urban school districts across the country are struggling financially and rural schools are facing their own funding problems as they pursue mergers to keep their schools afloat.
— arathi jayaram (@atinybrownrat) October 6, 2016
Jane Henderson, a parent with Maryland Communities United — a group of low and moderate-income parents and community members organizing to improve public schools in the state — said she is participating in this week’s walk-ins to improve equity in school funding, demand more community schools, and protest harsh student discipline policies.
Henderson is particularly invested in expanding community schools in Baltimore, where low-income kids need more access to services.
“At least 25 percent of kids in community schools have access to after-school programming and that can take a lot of different forms — that can be academic support, that could be cultural enrichment, that could be sports,” Henderson said. “In wealthier communities these are things kids have.”
— Patricia Sullivan (@pptpatti) October 6, 2016
Henderson said the debate over the funding formula for schools in Maryland — last decided in 2002 with the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act — should focus on how to fund schools in impoverished communities, which require different levels of resources.
“What we’ve learned since 2002 is that equality is one thing, but equity is another thing,” she pointed out. “The state should look at concentrated poverty, and in schools where 40 percent or more kids live in poverty, there are different needs… In 2002, they didn’t really look at concentrated poverty and now we know a lot more and community schools have proven to be an effective way to ensure a quality education for kids who do live in poverty.”
Erica Huerta, who teaches at James A. Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, said her main reasons for walking are to protest what she calls the “charterization” of the education system and to protect teachers’ rights. Charter schools, like public schools, vary in quality and student achievement, but many traditional public school teachers are worried about lack of oversight and losing funding to charters.
“It’s an exciting time, however bleak the situation looks.”
“Looking at the charters popping up in my neighborhood and seeing that not only are these charters not serving all students equally, they are able to weed out students who are not high achieving and the teachers at those schools are not protected and they’re not unionized,” Huerta said. “That is a threat to our whole profession. Seeing the de-unionization of our country and the attacks on unions, and teachers being one of the last big group of unionized workers, I see this as an attack on workers as well.”
Huerta, who has been a teacher for 16 years, said that despite her concerns about the quality of public education across the country, she is hopeful.
“It’s an exciting time, however bleak the situation looks,”Huerta said. “The fact that there is a national alliance to reclaim our schools and that people are starting to talk about these issues across the state and across the country and maybe coordinating actions together — I think that’s really exciting.”