A coalition of groups that includes the Black Lives Matter network has released an education policy platform calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring the country to provide a “fully funded education” in order to ensure adequate and appropriate educational resources.
The platform from the Movement for Black Lives policy group was released earlier this week with the backing of over 30 advocacy organizations. In addition to action in Washington, the platform calls on state-level ballot initiatives to increase funding for schools, and highlights an unsuccessful school funding ballot measure in Mississippi voted on last year as an example of positive action.
Two recent federal reports highlight the issues that the coalition urgently wants addressed, said Kesi Foster, a coordinator at the Urban Youth Collaborative, which helped develop the platform. The first is a May study by the Government Accountability Office showing that the share of racially and socioeconomically isolated schools is on the rise in the U.S. The second is a July policy brief from the U.S. Department of Education showing that spending on incarceration grew at triple the rate of K-12 spending growth in states from 1979 to 2013.
Those snapshots highlight the need for both more adequate and more equitable funding for black children in all settings, from big cities to rural states, according to Foster.
“We need to divest funding from policing, jailing, and harmful institutions for black communities, and invest funding into education for those communities,” Foster said in an interview.
The Movement for Black Lives’ call for a constitutional amendment regarding education has historical links to a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case. In San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodríguez, which challenged the Texas system of school finance, the majority of justices found that the constitution’s equal-protection clause does not apply to school funding formulas.
Deep, Persistent, and Intentional
The current environment, the platform states, is one in which black and brown students (along with students from low-income households) don’t have access to the same resources as others, and are often treated inappropriately and unfairly in school. In addition to current circumstances, the Movement for Black Lives drew on the historical underfunding of black schools compared to white schools, particularly in the South, Foster noted, when developing its platform.
According to the platform, other consequences of the lack of a constitutional amendment requiring a “fully funded education” are:
• “School closings, turnarounds, phaseouts, colocations and charter school expansion.”
• “Inequitable school funding, racebased school inequity and budget cuts.”
• “Mayoral control, state takeovers and the lack of meaningful parent and community engagement in districtwide education policy decisions and schoolbased governance.”
• “Zero tolerance discipline policies and the pushout crisis.”
All of those consequences, Foster said, highlight the “deep, persistent, intentional racial inequities that still exist in public schools.”
“It’s designed to deprive high-quality educational opportunities for young people,” he said of how the current K-12 system treats black students.
Local and Young Hope
So what’s needed? Foster said there must be a radical overhaul of the sort that’s simply not occuring right now.
The coalition calls for a constitutional amendment, although the coalition indicates it would prefer that such an amendment be approved by Congress rather than a constitutional convention called by sates.
Other key components of a “fully funded education” under a constitutional amendment, according to the Movement for Black Lives, would include:
• “free health services (including reproductive body autonomy and dental care).”
• “a curriculum that acknowledges and addresses youth’s material and cultural needs.”
• “physical activity and recreation.”
• “high quality food, free daycare, freedom from unwarranted search, seizure or arrest and art.”
At the state level, the platform calls for ballot measures and other means to create this educational right in state constitutions. It notes the legal landscape for this process—18 states, for example, allow voters to amend their state constitutions. (Click here for a review of state constitutions’ language dealing with education, authored by Molly A. Hunter of the Education Law Center.)
We asked Foster if he could point to a district, city, or state that’s moving in the right direction and hitting the platform’s priorities, and whether he was more optimistic about success in states rather than in Washington. In response, he said his biggest source of optimism was student advocacy inside and outside of schools in places like Oakland and Baltimore.
“The power really sits with people that do community organizing and grassroots organizing in their communites,” Foster told us. “We have not seen transformational policy proposals or changes from officials. For me, it feels much more like the work young people in their communities.”
Read the full Movement for Black Lives education platform below:
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