AROS Partners Pen Open Letter on ESEA Reauthorization

More than 100 grassroots community and labor groups have signed on to an open letter weighing in on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Read the letter and view the signers below: 

April 7, 2015

Dear Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell,
CC: Sen. Lamar Alexander, Chairman, HELP Committee
       Sen. Patty Murray, Ranking Member, HELP Committee
       Rep. John Kline, Chairman, Committee on Education and the Workforce
       Rep. Robert Scott, Senior Democratic Member, Committee on Education and the Workforce

On behalf of the more than 7 million parents, students, educators and community members affiliated with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), we are respectfully asking that you reject the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in its current form in the House of Representatives.

We believe that the only way to give every child the opportunity to pursue a rich and productive life both individually and as a member of society, is through a system of publicly funded, equitable and democratically controlled public schools. We believe that the federal government plays a critical role in ensuring that opportunity.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted 50 years ago next month. It was 1965—a full decade had passed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board of Education that our nation’s public schools should be integrated and that Black and Brown students deserved the same resources as more affluent and White children. Yet, in that decade, almost no progress had been made. By 1964, less than 1% of Black children across the South were attending schools with White children. Northern states, too, were refusing to integrate and equalize resources in their schools.

Congress and the President knew that if it was left up to the states, poor children would continue to languish in sub-standard, segregated schools. In passing ESEA, Congress specifically recognized a federal role in ensuring that low-income children have access to the resources and supports that they needed to succeed.

Today, that role is more critical than ever.

Last month the Southern Education Foundation reported that for the first time, the majority of students in our public schools are living in poverty. Across the country, growing income inequality and attacks on public education have opened a vast chasm between the wealthiest individuals and everyone else.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) is a national coalition representing more than 7 million Americans who attend and work in public schools, and live in the communities most impacted by the ESEA. We see the impact and promise of ESEA on our schools and districts every day.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools Recommendations for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

As those on the ground who are closest to our public schools, we believe any reauthorization of ESEA must include:

1. $1 Billion for 5,000 Sustainable Community Schools
Every school across the country should have the resources necessary for all students to succeed. That means not only a rigorous academic program, but also services and supports to address a variety of student needs. AROS is working with state and local officials in dozens of states to create what we call Sustainable Community Schools. We define these schools as offering five critical components: (1) an engaging, culturally relevant and challenging curriculum; (2) high quality teaching, not high stakes testing; (3) wraparound supports to students and the larger community; (4) positive discipline practices such as restorative justice, and (5) the full engagement of parents, students and the community in planning and decision-making.

These components, packaged together have a proven track records of success. The current law’s reliance on endless high-stakes assessments that rate and rank schools, teachers and students has not proven effective. The destructive wave of school closures that has swept across the country in response to these assessments has destabilized communities, and student lives. Instead of closing schools, we must fix them and offer districts, schools, educators and students the resources to focus on what works.

Creating the schools that all our children deserve takes resources. We urge Congress to offer grants to States to support the transformation of approximately 5,000 schools nationwide into Sustainable Community Schools. The funding should be targeted to schools with the highest concentration of poverty. This includes federal funding for each such school to hire a full-time community schools coordinator, as well as resources for implementation.

The ESEA should dedicate $1 billion to support the transformation of 5,000 struggling schools into Sustainable Community Schools.

2. A moratorium on federal funding for new or expanding charter schools
We do not oppose charter schools as envisioned in their original purpose—as incubators of innovation. We do object when the rapid expansion of charters creates financial strains that undermine our public districts. We object when charter schools fail to accept our most vulnerable students, or when they disproportionately push-out students with special needs. We object when States and the Federal government fail to adequately monitor charters, leading to millions of public dollars lost to fraud and mismanagement. As the nation’s largest funder of charter expansion through ESEA’s Charter Schools Program, the Federal government must assume some responsibility for the inconsistent quality among charter schools, for the destabilizing impact that these schools have had on our districts and our communities, and for the fraud, waste and abuse that have damaged the charter brand in state after state.

The ESEA should include a moratorium on federal funding for the creation or expansion of charter schools, and increased regulation on charters to halt the misuse of public dollars and ensure equitable treatment of students—particularly students of color.

3. Full funding for Title I to adequately support all students living in poverty, and targeting of those funds to the neediest schools
Congress originally intended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to offer federal funding amounting to an extra 40% of each state's average per pupil spending, for every school-age child living in poverty. The appropriations for the law have never met this target.

The bill being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize ESEA not only decreases funding for Title I, but also diffuses it through so-called “portability” provisions that would water down the law’s targeting requirements. The bill would eliminate the “maintenance of effort” requirement that forces states to pay their fair share for public education, and block-grant other important provisions that currently protect vulnerable student populations. Any provisions that weaken ESEA’s focus on the neediest and most vulnerable students must be resisted. And Congress this year—finally—should fully fund ESEA.

Equity is the primary role of the federal government in education. Fully funding this law would require roughly $38 billion in today’s dollars. To get there, Congress should appropriate a minimum of $20 billion this year, with a 10-year goal of reaching full funding so that all students living in poverty are served. Funds should continue to be targeted to the schools with the highest concentration of poverty, and States must be required to pay their fair share.

4. $500 million to schools to help end the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
Every student and every educator deserves a safe school to learn and work in. When students aren’t in school, they can’t learn, and research shows that even a single suspension or referral to the juvenile court system increases the odds of a student dropping out of school altogether. Youth and community-based organizing groups have known for a long time that zero tolerance school discipline policies have done more harm than good, pushing students out of the classroom at unprecedented rates—and that the presence of police officers in schools can unnecessarily escalate student discipline issues into criminal justice issues. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a rare joint policy guidance addressing disparities in school discipline policy that disproportionately impact students of color, children with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth. Yet the federal government continues to offer millions of dollars to states to place police officers in schools while providing proportionately less funding to help schools adopt and implement alternative positive discipline practices.

The ESEA should provide $500 million to provide training, staffing and supports to schools working to fully implement restorative justice and/or other programs to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Half of this funding should be targeted at Title I-eligible schools that are struggling with high suspension rates and high rates of student push-out.

As the reauthorization moves through Congress, we hope that you, as Congressional Leaders, will listen to the priorities of students, parents, educators and others who work in our schools every day and not the well-funded special interests who prioritize profits over real strategies to create the schools that all our children deserve. We hope that you will hear our voices as you move forward with reauthorization of ESEA. 

Signed,

National AROS Partner Organizations:
Alliance for Educational Justice Journey for Justice Alliance
American Federation of Teachers National Education Association
Center for Popular Democracy
Gamaliel Network
The Opportunity to Learn Campaign 
Service Employees International Union

Supporting National and Local Organizations: 
ACT for Education – Minneapolis
AFT Maryland
AFT New Mexico
Action Now – Chicago
Action North Carolina
Action United – Philadelphia
Alliance/AFT – Dallas
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment 
Alliance for Public Schools – Florida
Alliance for Quality Education – New York
Arkansas Community Organizations
Austin Voices for Education and Youth
Badass Teachers Association
Baltimore Algebra Project
Baltimore CLC
Baltimore Teachers Union
Black Economic Justice Institute – Boston
Boston Education Justice Alliance
Boston Student Advisory Council 
Boston Youth Organizing Project (BYOP)
Brooklyn Movement Center
CASA
Center for Third World Organizing
Chicago Teachers Union
Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council
Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition
Cincinnati Federation of Teachers
Cincinnati Federation of Teachers Retirees Organization
Cincinnati Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice 
Cincinnati Parents for Public Schools
Cincinnati Women’s Political Caucus
Coalition for Asian American Children and Families – NYC
Coalition for Community Schools New Orleans 
Coalition for Quality Public Schools – Minneapolis 
Common Good Ohio
Community Voices for Public Education – Houston 
Concerned Citizens Coalition – Jersey City
Detroit LIFE Coalition
Dade Coalition for Education and Economic Justice
Dominican Sisters of Hope – Cincinnati
DRUM – New York City
Education Austin
Empower DC
Fannie Lou Hamer Center for Change – Eupora, MS
Faith Community Alliance of Greater Cincinnati
Florida Public Services Union
Girls for Gender Equity – New York City 
Great Public Schools- Pittsburgh
Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless
Harris County Central Labor Council
Houston Federation of Teachers Local 2415
Illinois Federation of Teachers
Inner City Struggle – Los Angeles
Jobs With Justice
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization – Chicago
The Lawndale Alliance – Chicago
The Long Island Progressive Coalition
Maryland AFL-CIO
Maryland Communities United
Maryland State and DC AFL-CIO
Massachusetts Jobs with Justice
Metropolitan Congregations United – St. Louis
Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength – Detroit
Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association 
MORE2 – Kansas City
MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change
NEA Dallas
Newark Student Union
Newark Teachers Union
New Jersey Communities United
New York Communities for Change
New York State United Teachers
New York Urban Youth Collaborative
NYC Coalition for Educational Justice
One Pittsburgh
Opt Out Minnesota
Opt Out Twin Cities
Organizers in the Land of Enchantment
Padres y Jovenes Unidos – Denver
Parents Across America
Parents for Public Schools of Greater Cincinnati
Parents Unified for Local School Education – Newark 
Patterson Neighborhood Assistance Office – NJ 
Pennsylvania AFT
Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network
Philadelphia Citizens Advocating for Public Schools
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
Philadelphia Student Union
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
Power U Center for Social Justice – Miami 
PRIDE of the Eastside – Austin
Progressive Maryland
Rethink Nola
Rise Up Georgia
San Diego Education Association (SDEA)
Save Texas Schools
Schools and Communities United – Milwaukee
SEIU 32BJ – Pittsburgh
SEIU Local 205 – Tennessee
SEIU Local 284 – Minnesota
SEIU Local 500 – Maryland
SEIU Local 925 – Seattle 
SEIU Health Care PA
SEIU Texas
Solidarity School – Cincinnati 
Support Our Students (SOS) – Alabama
St. Paul Federation of Teachers, Local 28
State Innovation Exchange (SiX)
Stop the Takeover – Dallas
Students 4 Change – St. Louis
Texas Civil Rights Project
Texas AFT
Texas Organizing Project
TNT: Teaching, Not Testing –  A New Narrative for Education – Las Cruces, NM
United Educators of San Francisco
United Federation of Teachers – New York City
United Teachers of Dade
United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA)
VOICE – Buffalo
Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) – New Orleans
Wisconsin Jobs Now
Women’s City Club – Cincinnati
Workers Defense Project – Austin
Youth Empowered in the Struggle – Milwaukee
Youth Justice Coalition – Los Angeles
Youth Organizers United for the Now Generation (YOUNG)
Youth On Board – Boston
Youth Together – Oakland
Youth United for Change
482 Forward – Detroit