The coalition’s proposals are wide-ranging and, depending on who is talking, either aspirational or entirely unrealistic. They range from calling for a constitutional amendment for “fully funded” education (activists say federal funding is inadequate and not distributed equally) and a moratorium on charter schools to the removal of police from schools and the closure of all juvenile detention centers.
Mostly, said Jonathan Stith, the national coordinator for the Washington-based Alliance for Educational Justice and one of the lead authors, the propositions are an attempt to crystallize what the movement supports and to provide activists with a platform from which to move forward. “It’s always been clear what we’re against, but [articulating] what we’re for, what we want to see, was a real labor,” Stith, 41, said. The document is also an effort to connect education priorities to health care, the economy, criminal justice, and a range of other public-policy areas, and to, as Stith put it, force progress “in concert.”.
The plan, which lambasts the “privatization” of education by foundations that wield fat wallets to shape policy and criticizes charter-school networks for decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources, drew immediate criticism from education reformers who see charters and groups like Teach for America (the plan calls for its demise) as providing badly needed services to students of color. Some of these reformers said it signaled that the movement was cozy with teachers’ unions and the status quo. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the head of the National Education Association, one of the country’s two main teachers’ unions, wrote in an emailed comment, “The NEA is honored to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and proud to be a partner with the organizations that support community-based solutions to support students and public schools.”
But Hiram Rivera, the 39-year-old executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union and another author of the platform, pointed out that the plan offers plenty for the unions to dislike, too, such as community control of curriculum, and the flexibility to hire and fire teachers. “The education system in this country has never worked for poor people and people of color,” said Rivera. “We’re not calling for the status quo. We don't want things to continue as they’ve always done.”
Stith (who has a child enrolled in a charter school and said the desire to eliminate them “comes from a lived experience”) and Rivera think that reformer-union dichotomy ignores the movement’s broader goal of returning control of schools to parents, students, and local communities. “A lot of the real issues get lost,” Rivera said, citing curriculum, school safety, resources, and college-and-career preparation as examples.