By Keron Blair and Jay Travis
December 7, 2018
As the dust settles from last month’s midterm elections, parents, students, community members and educators of America are savoring our victories and preparing for the long fight ahead for the public schools that our students deserve.
We are working to remedy decades of fiscal austerity in our public schools. Between 2005 and 2017, public schools in the U.S. were underfunded by $580 billion in federal dollars alone—money that was specifically targeted to support some of our most vulnerable students. Recouping all those funds won’t be easy.
However, with new voices in Congress joining forces with longtime education champions like Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) —the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce—and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) —the incoming chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that writes the education budget—a lot can get done for America’s students and their public schools.
When it comes to public education, voters don’t want divestment and less regulation. They want more investment, smaller class-sizes, greater accountability for privately-operated charter schools, and school climates that are respectful and safe for students and staff.
Those demands were at the forefront when educators took to the streets in West Virginia, Puerto Rico, Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Arizona last spring. They are central to the demands now on the table in Los Angeles, where teachers have been bargaining with the district for nearly two years.
Those demands also motivated parents, teachers and community members to make the tough choice to run for office this fall, and most importantly, they are one reason why Americans voted in huge numbers on November 6.
Taken together, the public is demanding the schools all children deserve.
Here are “Four Big Things” the 116th Congress can do to recommit themselves to equity, and ensure that every child has access to a great neighborhood public school:
Fund Title I and IDEA to their Fully Authorized Amounts. Since 2005 alone, Title I has been short-changed by $347 billion. The federal underpayment to states for IDEA has reached $233 billion since 2005.
These willful underpayments have resulted in under-resourced classrooms, staff shortages, a loss of services for students who need them, and more. In the new Congress, fully funding Title I and IDEA should be a top priority.
Invest in School Infrastructure and Technology. President Trump committed to putting America First. Rep. Bobby Scott has proposed sweeping legislation that would provide cash-strapped school districts with the monies they need to modernize and update their school buildings. These investments would create jobs and provide our students, teachers and school staff with healthy and safe learning spaces.
Invest in Community Schools. A couple months ago, the news media was a-buzz about Lebron James’s I Promise School, in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. This public school promises well-resourced classrooms, well-supported educators, a school health center and all the tools necessary to meet the social and emotional needs of students and their families.
That is our definition of a Sustainable Community School. The federal program that funds community schools is currently funded at a woefully inadequate $17 million. President Trump’s 2018 budget proposed eliminating it. Instead, Congress should boost funding and incentivize states and districts to establish 25,000 Sustainable Community Schools by 2025.
End the teacher shortage by increasing wages for educators. Each and everyday, our educators perform magic. For all their hard work they are paid pennies compared to comparably-trained professionals. It's time for change.
In the new Congress, we urge our leaders to keep their promise and build a “Better Deal” for educators by providing $50 billion in new funds to increase teacher compensation and recruit and retrain a strong, diverse workforce over the next 10 years.
In the 116th Congress, we have a chance to do right by our students and their families. But it will require brave and bold action and a commitment to educational equity from Congress. In 2018, educators, parents, students and community have been bold and brave: they took to the streets, they put their jobs on the line, they raised their voices and they voted. Now, the power lies in the hands of our lawmakers, and we demand that they act.
Keron Blair and Jay Travis are Co-Directors of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), an alliance of parent, youth, community and labor organizations that together represent over 7 million people nationwide.