While the sacred obligation of democracy must be honored by counting every last ballot, it’s clear that Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris have won the presidential election. The results this year are historic: the first woman Vice President, the daughter of African American and Asian immigrants, and the highest voter turnout in our nation’s history.
The urgency of the moment cannot be overstated. The challenges facing the new administration are monumental. More than 200,000 Americans — disproportionately Black and Latinx — have died due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This public health disaster has shuttered businesses, schools, and places of worship while draining the coffers of the very state and local agencies on the front lines combating it. The open wound of racist police violence demands a proper reckoning. The impact of these and other tragedies was needlessly magnified by the failures of the federal executive branch.
Two things are certain, as this most uncertain year draws to a close. One, the moment demands a new vision of racial, gender, and economic justice for America. Two, the public school — which this year shined in the roles of emergency shelter, food bank, hospital, and polling place — must be the centerpiece of that new vision.
The crises we face today are in large part a result of the inequities and injustices we’ve carried unresolved for generations. Long before the era of Zoom classrooms, a student’s race and zip code could tell you how likely they were to graduate, or face expulsion, or be arrested. As we chart a new path forward, a return to the previous status quo is not an option.
Fortunately, students, parents, educators and advocates in communities across the country have already begun building that path. Amid the pandemic, grassroots groups mobilized mutual aid support for millions of people, embodying an ethic of equity and justice. In the wake of George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s murders by the police, a renewed push to remove police from schools has scored major victories in dozens of cities, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline at its most dangerous. Teachers have struck against funding cuts and for safer classroom environments.
In December 2019, Schott co-hosted a first-of-its-kind presidential candidate forum in Pittsburgh, in which seven leading contenders directly faced questions from students, parents, and educators. Joe Biden was among them.
During that forum, Biden made significant pledges to the more than one thousand grassroots activists in attendance—pledges we now expect the new administration to keep.
Among his commitments, Biden pledged to:
- Triple funding for Title I, the federal funding that goes to schools in low-income neighborhoods, including funds for increased educator salaries.
- Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), which since its passage has never been allocated the funds needed.
- Provide high-quality, universal pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds.
- Double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in public schools.
- Dramatically expand the number of community schools nationwide to serve at least an additional 300,000 students.
- Dedicate federal infrastructure funds to rebuild public schools.
It’s clear those pledges must be expanded to match the needs of the nation Biden will face on Inauguration Day. There can be no racial justice without education justice, without children of color having a fair and substantive opportunity to learn and achieve. First on his agenda — and something he won’t have to wait on Congress to do — should be to roll back Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ rules and guidance that have undermined students’ civil rights, hollowed out the protections of Title IX, and furthered the privatization of public education.
Second, as we rebuild our communities, the Biden administration should take a holistic approach to the interconnected problems our children face. Schott’s recent Loving Cities Index report documents the major shortcomings in our infrastructure to support children and families in major cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, and Charlotte. Expanding the Department of Education into a Department of Youth and Family Success would help federal programs break out of their silos and begin to address the core underlying issues in both the classroom and the larger community. Economic stimulus funding should be strategically targeted to investments in education and other key areas that help close our nation’s racial inequities.
As those of us in the education justice movement know well, change only comes when you’re in the room where decisions are made. It was the unparalleled efforts of Black and Brown-led groups — educating the public, registering countless new voters and getting them to the polls — that helped clinch the outcome of this election. They have more than earned a seat at the table. Schott supports the demands of education justice organizations and national alliances in their calls for the inclusion of grassroots education justice leaders on the President’s Transition Team and for the establishment of an Equity Advisory Committee in the Department of Education composed of grassroots leaders in education, housing, health care, economic development, and youth investment.
In past moments of crisis, Americans have shown their ability to embrace a bold vision for our country’s future. With committed and organized social movements in the streets and dedicated policymakers in office, anything is possible. Let’s ensure we again rise to the challenge and save the soul of America.