Opinion:  Education for the 99%: how the top 1% is destroying public education

By Jose Lara, Social Justice Educator, Community Organizer, United Teachers Los Angeles

imageWith the top 1% in full control of education policy and responsible for creating a financial crisis that is defunding our schools and eliminating essential programs such as Adult Education and Early Childhood Education, we must join together as the 99%. We must take back control of our schools from corporate interests and make those responsible for the financial crisis in this country pay, so we can fully fund our schools.

Billionaires like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Philip Anschultz, and companies like NewsCorp, and Goldman Sachs all contribute to so-called education “reform” efforts across the country. Here in Los Angeles, they all directly fund the LA Mayor’s Coalition for School Reform. Yes folks, the 1% have more influence and control in our schools than parents, students and professional educators, who have the MOST interest in the success our children.

Writer Joanne Barkan carefully outlines how the wealthy have gained so much influence in her article, “Got Dough, How Billionaires Rule Our Schools.”

Whether it is through grants, donations or political contributions, no one has more power and influence in our schools than the Corporations and the Ultra Wealthy 1%. In Los Angeles, Billionaire Eli Board has trained and now pays the salaries of LAUSD top executives. The 1% has access to public education decision makers that only money can buy.

Moreover, what has the 1% done with their influence? They have increased the amount of standardized testing, approved new corporate charter schools, taken away adequate resources from public schools and then blamed teachers and unions with the failure of their own making. This has lead to a narrowing of the curriculum, a de-emphasis on arts, health, career and industrial education and a heavy emphasis on standardized testing.

But it does not stop there.

The 1% has no interest in closing the gap between the rich and the poor. With the onslaught of private career and technical colleges, the 1% would rather close down public Adult Schools to push adult students into predatory private schools, where they can make a profit.

But there is hope.

The 99% movement has inspired a new wave of activism and organizing that has not been seen in a long time. In the Fall of 2011, educators in Los Angeles came together and joined with the #Occupy movement that has swept the country and began a campaign to #OccupyLAUSD. Teachers from across the city began to set up tents, hold general assemblies and protest the lack of funding for public education and the 1% influence in Public Education. The first day of the encampment hundreds of people from Occupy LA and teachers held a march and rally. However, the encampment almost did not make it through the night as LAUSD School police came and tried to evict the teachers.

Over 15 police arrive to evict the teachers from the encampment. Jose reaches out through Twitter for help.

On the first night of our encampment at OccupyLAUSD outside LAUSD headquarters (also known as “Beaudry” for the name of the street), suddenly school police showed up with the intention to evict our group, which was very small on the first night. While we negotiated with them to buy more time, I reached out across the Twitterverse to the media and our friends at OccupyLA. The standoff became quite tense, but many people started retweeting us—and within an hour a contingent of 100 people from OccupyLA marched over from City Hall to the LAUSD School Board, swelling our ranks. Spanish media outlets also showed up. At that point the police backed down, and left us alone. We had won our first victory with OccupyLAUSD! People began chanting, Beaudry is ours!

Using social media, grassroots mobilization and outreach strategy, #OccupyLAUSD quickly joined the network on hundreds of Occupy sites across the country. Just like the Occupy Wall Street movement protested Wall Street greed, the #OccupyLAUSD campaign protested Wall Street greed and influence in our schools.

The #OccupyLAUSD Campaign ended with a huge protest bringing together labor leaders and teachers from across the state. This included local presidents of the largest teachers unions in California, including the Oakland Teachers Assoc, United Teachers of San Francisco, the San Diego Education Assoc. and United Teachers Los Angeles. The #OccupyLAUSD campaign completely changed the discourse around inadequate school funding and exposed the corporate greed and influence in the Los Angeles Unified School District. For the first time in years, we put corporate influence in our school on the defensive.

The Occupy movement reignited a fire for educational justice and reminded us once again that organized people beat organized money any day of the week.

The resistance movement against defunding pubic education has already regained traction in Los Angeles. It has been spurred by threatening cuts to eliminate Adult Education and Pre-school programs. Both programs directly serve the working class community in LA and both have had massive amount of support from the community. Over the course of the past month there have been numerous protests organized by parents and teachers. The organizing in support of Adult Education has been particularly impressive as thousands across the city make phones calls, write letters and join in many of the protest rallies.

Fighting for educational justice for the 99% has just begun. We must continue to fight against budget cuts to essential educational programs and support Tax initiatives like the California Millionaires Tax, that make the top 1% pay for the economic crisis they created. We must take back our schools and not allow the 1% to destroy public education. United we win!

Jose Lara is a community organizer, adult education activist and a leader of #OccupyLAUSD, a grassroots campaign linking the 1% influence in privatizing public education.
Jose is a guest blogger in the discussion series “Cut the Excuses, Not Education! How SaveAdultEd.org Is Fighting the Proposal to Eliminate Adult Education in L.A.” See the full discussion schedule online. Participate by posting your comments and questions in the box below and signing SaveAdultEd.org’s petition.

This blog post was originally published on the National Coalition for Literacy website.

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