Denver Rising: A Loving School System agenda aims to reverse racial inequity

This weekend, Our Voice Our Schools coalition is gathering a group of community practitioners and activists to come together at Denver University and align around a comprehensive agenda for education justice in Denver. The goal of the event: to move from talk to action by creating a comprehensive Loving School System agenda that highlights the systemic changes and investments needed to truly provide Black children in Denver their right to free, high-quality public education.

Many working in the education field in Denver acknowledge that there has been a great deal of talk about racial equity in Denver over the past several years, but not a lot of action and public investment. The facts are indisputable: even after years of “improvement plans” to address inequitable academic outcomes, Black students in Denver do not have the same opportunity to succeed on state math and literacy tests and graduate on time, and they are being suspended at higher rates than their White peers.

The Bailey Report produced by former school board member Sharon Bailey nearly three years ago highlighted the cultural racism experienced by Black teachers and students in Denver Public Schools. The report led to the formation of a task force that proposed 11 recommendations for ways to improve culture and conditions, including offering signing bonuses to help attract more black teachers, making student discipline data count toward school ratings, and requiring each school to create a plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools.” While school board and Denver Public School district officials continue to create space to talk about racial equity, little has been done to implement these recommendations or make other investments in schools serving predominantly Black populations.

Beyond the cultural and inter-personal racism that the Bailey Report highlights, other recent reports put data points to the broader structural racism and inequity in public school systems across Colorado and the nation.

According to an edbuild report, 23 billion less public dollars go to nonwhite schools districts compared to districts serving predominantly White students. In Colorado, predominantly White school districts, whether they are serving low-poverty or high-poverty populations, have on average 16% more funding than nonwhite districts. This is because White school districts tend to close themselves off, and draw lines around them in ways that keep them very small and very wealthy, and in a way that closes wealth off from communities of color.

The Loving School Systems agenda that will begin to take shape through this convening will include a focus on inequity in public and private funding and strategies to “decolonize wealth”, with Edgar Villanueva from the Schott Foundation speaking to the group about strategies to address the massive gaps in funding for education justice work. The convening will be grounded in the Loving Cities Index framework created by the Schott Foundation to highlight how inequitable access to resources and supports across education, workforce development, health, housing, and other related sectors impact education justice and as a result student academic success. The convening will be capped off with a community gathering in the evening, to learn about "Decolonizing Wealth" and screen and discuss the documentary Backpack Full of Cash

The Loving School Systems convening will lift up public education justice and the fight for a high-quality public education as the human rights and civil rights issue of our time. This will be a chance for practitioners to align around the systems changes, policies, and programs that are needed and the resources that must be mobilized for the survival of poor Black, Brown, marginalized White communities by meeting the promise of high-quality public education for all.