Thousands of students, parents, teachers, and union leaders held protests across the country before classes started this morning, to focus attention on the need for increased funding and less testing at traditional public schools. The #ReclaimOurSchools hashtag has been trending on Twitter for the past six hours, as participants from mostly large urban districts like Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati post photos and videos from the protests. The main organizer of the rally, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which includes many local community advocates and the nation's largest two teachers' unions, say they expected about 900 schools across the country to participate in the protests.
Many supporters gathered 30 minutes before the start of school today, and then walked in to school to demand increased funding for traditional, public schools (as supposed to charter schools). The groups were also protesting the increase in testing that kids have seen over the past 14 years, and trying to bring support to "community schools"— public neighborhood schools that serve nearby families, and include strong academic programs, afterschool supports, and health and social services (these schools often work in partnerships with local non-profits, and work closely with local parents).
Protestors argue that successful community schools require adequate funding, which has been diminishing in the last decade. Most states today provide less overall funding for public schools than before the Great Recession of 2007-09. What's more, the funding gap per student between rich and poor schools nationwide has grown 44 percent-even as the numbers of needy students have gone up. In 2012, only 15 states attempted to send extra money to high-poverty schools, down from a high of 20 in 2008. As a result, many large, urban districts like Detroit struggle to balance their books and are functioning under "emergency state take-overs." In Detroit, today's "Walk-In" participants, as they call themselves, focused their demands on opposition to such state school take-overs that they say haven't reduced the deficits or increased students test scores or grades.
One of the main organizers of the rallies today, the advocacy group Reclaim Our Schools, published the protestors' agenda:
- Full, fair funding for neighborhood-based community schools that provide students with quality in-school supports and wraparound services
- Charter accountability and transparency and an end to state takeovers of low-performing schools and districts
- Positive discipline policies and an end to zero-tolerance
- Full and equitable funding for all public schools
- Racial justice and equity in our schools and communities."