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Pushing Back Against the Privatization of Public Schools

Recent news headlines point to the troubling trend of school privatization in this pivotal moment of history. It’s certainly nothing new; young people, parents, and community organizers have been fighting against concerted attacks on public education for decades. Sociologists like Dr. Eve L. Ewing have documented recent grassroots-led struggles against school boards that have proposed massive school closures in Chicago. There is certainly an inextricable link between the closure of public schools and increased enrollment in charter and private schools; families are pushed to the brink as they consider the best option they may have for educating their children, and they act accordingly. This period of time presents a particularly ripe opportunity to stand in solidarity with parents and guardians who are demanding significant investments in the schools their children attend. They want and deserve for these sustainable public schools, anchored in their neighborhoods, to exist and last for many generations to come. 

The NAACP and Southern Poverty Law Center sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this summer to prevent the reallocation of public funds for private schools. The Texas state government indicated that it would follow this guidance from Secretary DeVos and her Department of Education. The Center for Popular Democracy, the national Journey for Justice Alliance, and a host of teachers’ unions across the country staged virtual actions on August 3, 2020 to demand, in part, a moratorium on charter schools and vouchers. These actions follow the rich tradition of community members holding education policymakers accountable — at the national, state, and local levels. In a period of time where the coronavirus pandemic has radically transformed so many aspects of society, it only makes sense for young people and parents to unequivocally demand that a quality public education be accessible throughout the United States, regardless of zip code. 

At Texas Appleseed, we recognize the connection between ongoing efforts to privatize education and the exclusionary discipline that so many young people experience in their schools. Data often confirm that charter schools and private schools tend to disproportionately discipline their Black and Latinx students, in contravention to the marketing of these educational institutions. Private and charter schools claim to provide a competitive advantage to children as they consider their college and career options; instead, they enforce strict codes of conduct and frequently close their doors prior to students completing their matriculation. Texas Appleseed has begun to explore the issue of exclusionary discipline at charter schools across Texas, and we intend to demonstrate how charter schools are able to select their student bodies through strict admissions guidelines. Once the children are in, they can often use exclusionary discipline to remove their students with incredible ease, since the same accountability structures do not always apply. 

We believe that a quality public education is a human right. The Texas Constitution speaks to this, and the advocacy of young people, parents, and community organizers across generations demonstrates how much an education means to so many people. In this moment of myriad looming threats to public education, it is incredibly important to uplift the civil rights demands of directly impacted parents and young people. Threats such as the inclusion of private schools in state scholarship programs being validated by the U.S. Supreme Court, school districts moving forward with uneven reopening plans, and the looming impact of budget shortfalls stand to further erode the foundation of public schools

Despite all of this, organizing and advocacy efforts are certainly not in vain. As the summer concludes, so does this nation’s engagement in the largest protest in its history. Through pressure from community makers, policymakers at all levels of government are now more vocal about the legacy of white supremacy in this country and the racist policies that have fueled it over centuries. As school districts in cities like Oakland, Columbus, Portland, Denver, St. Paul, and Minneapolis have taken significant steps to remove police officers from their campuses, they have increasingly opened the debate to how this society can build and sustain thriving schools — ones that are truly responsive to the needs of their students, staff members, and the broader community. Parents and young people are actively engaged in that conversation, and it will be their recommendations that lead us to a future with equal educational opportunities. 

Stopping privatization efforts, dismantling zero tolerance policies, and seeking the billions of dollars owed to majority Black and Latinx schools across the U.S. will be grueling work, but so many parents, young people, community members, and advocates have proven that they are up to the task. 

We stand in solidarity with them all and will continue to fight for a quality public education for all young Texans.

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