It’s back to school time, and if you believe the ads, that means shopping. Backpacks, school supplies, clothes and uniforms, lunch boxes, textbooks; the list goes on and on. No matter what your shopping list looks like, it’s clear that education is an investment, unlike many others, that pays off.
However, California is now ranked 47th on education spending, and concerns about the quality of California schools have gone up as the state’s spending per student has gone down. There is no simple solution to our education woes, but it’s clear that more resources are a starting place and that the only way to secure them is to get political.
So while some of us were on vacation this summer, California’s dedicated school reform advocates were gearing up for fall. These groups organize students, parents, and educators, who come together to imagine solutions to our education challenges and then advocate to make those dreams reality:
- Youth Together works in East Bay high schools to encourage and train students to take their concerns about their education to administrators, legislators, and others in power who can help them improve their schools while they learn to be advocates and leaders.
- InnerCity Struggle does similar work with young people in East Los Angeles, as well as offering academic enrichment programs.
- Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network is where parents go to make a difference.
- Organizations like Community Coalition, Coleman Advocates, Californians for Justice and PICO California bring together communities united by geography, faith or philosophy, and a commitment to building better schools and healthier students for a stronger California.
LightBox Collaborative has had the pleasure to get to know these groups through our work with Communities for Public Education Reform, which supports this growing movement of community-based educational advocates. With the strength of these organizations behind them, people are working together in their communities to improve local schools in ways that are consistent with their cultures and priorities. Despite their different approaches, they all agree that California schools need more resources and revenue reform is the only answer.
This common conviction is why many of them have been working to ensure the passage of various revenue proposals that will be on the November ballot. Many non-profits shy away from this kind of political advocacy because of fear of controversy or even losing their legal status. However, the need for resources in our schools is so critical that education reformers know they have to get smart about how they can fight for them.
Luckily, there are resources out there to help do-gooders learn how your organization can safely advocate for the kind of changes your constituents need. Our own Holly Minch wrote Loud and Clear in an Election Year to help non-profits navigate these waters. The Alliance for Justice has an entire website of resources for organizations looking to launch or expand their political advocacy.
We need to use all the tools in our toolbox to make change, and when we shy away from electoral work we unnecessarily constrain our work and our impact. In the back to school spirit, let’s all learn more about how we can make a difference for education, the environment, inequality, and all the issues we care about.