“Why does voting for school board matter? Voting in local school board elections is one of the most impactful and important decisions in the country. As someone who believes in the power of social change, community engagement and awareness on issues, like the educational inequities in LAUSD, voting is so crucial to how our society functions. Due to voter turnout rates being SO low, the stakes are even higher for candidates who will later become the decision-makers on education issues”. - Miquitzli Herrera, East Los Angeles College
Education is one of our most powerful tools to ignite social change in our communities and end generational poverty. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the largest school district in the nation with an elected school board, and serves more than 600,000 students with a budget of $7.6 billion. Despite the number of students and the billions of taxpayer dollars being spent, during the last school board election less than 10% of voters in LA county voted. Four school board seats are currently up for election. District Seven, a narrowly drawn district spanning 22 miles from South Central LA to San Pedro, is one of the most contested seats with five candidates running, and it is considered a critical seat on an otherwise dysfunctional school board. Last week, Students for Education Reform (SFER) leaders in collaboration with leaders of the Parent Power Network hosted a candidate forum to increase voter awareness and highlight key issues of equity in Los Angeles.
Held at the Chuco’s Justice Center in the heart of South Central LA, our venue served as a symbol of hope in the face of an oppressive and racist history of youth criminalization, mass incarceration, and the school-to-prison pipeline that has plagued Los Angeles County. Four of the five candidates running in District Seven were in attendance, including Tanya Ortiz Franklin, Mike Lansing, Lydia Gutierrez, and Dr. Silke Bradford. After multiple attempts, Patricia Castellanos declined to attend. Many of the candidates' answers reflected their commitment to LAUSD, and their approaches and beliefs on different issues facing the district became apparent throughout the night.
All board member candidates committed to prioritizing authentic parent engagement; increasing budgeted mental health resources; and supporting the highest-need students in the district. When asked if candidates believed that every LAUSD student has the potential to go to college and that LAUSD should help students get to college, all candidates responded yes! Mike Lansing highlighted every school in LAUSD does not provide the same opportunity for all students and highlight the importance of leveraging local private and public partnerships to support students college and career trajectory. Tanya Ortiz-Franklin shared that when LAUSD went back on its A-G promise for C or better it sent the message that we don’t believe all students can earn a C or better. Current high school diplomas don’t allow graduates to be eligible for CSUs and UC schools. She disagreed with LAUSD’s current misalignment of high school requirements to A-G and believes the first step to create a college going culture starts with aligning C letter grades in elementary and middle schools. Lydia Gutierrez emphasized her 30-year teaching career, and noted that she believes that students need to be looking at alternatives to college and university and that LAUSD should be preparing students for careers that do not require a college education.
In 2015 LAUSD went back on its promise for a C or better requirement for graduation. However, many students and families still believe incorrectly that earning a high school diploma alone means students are eligible to apply to 4-year colleges. For those that were accepted to college, many found their LAUSD education has left them unprepared for the rigor, resulting in having to take remedial classes. Only 1 in 4 LAUSD graduates are expected to earn a Bachelor’s degree in 6 years. As the CSU and UC system continue exploring expanding A-G requirements, LAUSD is not taking the urgent steps needed to support our students. At SFER, we're in support of expanding pathways for all students, but it must occur on a foundation that ensures college readiness as an option for all. As the cost of living in LA continues to rise, college admissions and find living wage jobs are get more competitive. Education has the potential to drastically end the cycle of poverty in LA. We are organizing a campaign around college access and demanding LAUSD make college a realistic option for every student.
Our students, our parents, and our communities cannot and should not wait 47 years to have equality -- let alone 70 years for African Americans. As LAUSD continues to maintain a status quo of complacency, our young leaders-specifically our black and brown students- will continue to pay the price. By 2030, California will fall an estimated 1.1 million bachelor’s degrees short of economic demand.
One of our members asked about their approach to making students ready for careers of the future, and Silke Bradford commented on her experience from having friends in Silicon Valley and having served as the Director of Charter Schools in Oakland USD. When she asked her friends in high-tech companies which countries best prepare students for the skills needed in Silicon Valley, she identified Finland for “best all-around”. She shared her experiences traveling to Finland to learn about their education system, and how they are teaching design thinking by ensuring that every student takes a variety of courses (including home economics and woodworking) to learn the skills of problem solving and innovation. She would hope to bring new and innovative international approaches to our schools.
During the audience Q&A, all candidates were asked about how they have incorporated student voices into their campaigns and what they have learned. Mike Lansing highlighted his ongoing interactions with thousands of students leading the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles Harbor, and Lydia Gutierrez cited her 30 years of teaching experience where she interacts with students daily and sees them in her neighborhood. Silke Bradford shared the focus groups that she’s held with students, and shared that the top priority she always hears is around school lunch (and that she has ideas from Finland for better lunches!), but shared that moving past the obvious lunch discussion, she hears from students that they want access and more choices - access to advanced classes and choices around options including learning foreign languages other than Spanish. Tanya Ortiz-Franklin echoed Silke’s fresh ideas and sentiments, but humbly admitted that she could do a better job listening to students and wants to hear more from them.
While the primary on March 3rd is not likely to decide the final election outcome, it is important that we continue to emphasize with all candidates our needs and desires around issues of mental health access for all students, transparency and data for students and families to make informed choices, improved educational expectations and outcomes - including alignment of graduation requirements with college eligibility - to close the opportunity gap.
Historically, the education system in our country has never served black, brown, and poor communities. As we enter a new decade, we believe creating an LAUSD where education is the great equalizer. Education in Los Angeles and beyond must remain a top priority in this election and we will be campaigning to ensure it is at the forefront of all candidates running for office, not just those for school board. We will not tolerate an ongoing system of oppression and injustice in our schools. We will continue to ensure that our voices are heard by candidates and openly welcome them to engage with us in discussions both during their candidacy and as elected officials.
“My vision for LA schools is 1) To foster enriching environments that pique students’ desire to learn; 2) Implement policies to verify the quality of academic teaching and efficacy of college preparation. In order to manifest visions like those, we need representatives who want to make a positive difference in our education system. Voting for school board matters because it is the first strategic action we can take as individuals, to contend with the decision-makers who use their power to maintain the status quo.” - Daisy Medina-Arreola
Board District 7 community, we leave you with this: Today's economy demands a more educated workforce and reading is the key to getting California's 6.2 million K-12 students ready for the future. California has one of the largest reading achievement gaps in the nation. At the current rates of learning, it would take several decades to expect all students to be reading at grade level. These children are the future of our state and our country. We need to ensure each child has the opportunity to reach their full potential as they will be our future doctors, scientists, lawyers, educators, and policy makers. If you are able to vote, don’t miss out on doing your civic duty. With so many issues that matter, every election, including this one, matters and your vote counts. If you are unable to vote, encourage your family and friends who can to go out and vote. Every vote counts! Join us as we elevate more student voices in this discussion to ensure an equitable education for all students.
*Note: Students for Education Reform/SFER refers to our previous legal name