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Commentary: DeVos confirmation calls for Angelenos to unite

Guest contributor | February 23, 2017

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By Nadia Diaz Funn

Betsy DeVos’ narrow confirmation by the Senate as the 11th U.S. Secretary of Education made one thing clear: now more than ever, the entire Los Angeles education community — including LAUSD, its labor partners, charter leaders, education advocates, philanthropy, and families — must set aside its ideological and political differences to unite for the larger purpose of safeguarding the federal policies and resources that provide essential learning supports, safety nets, and protections for all of America’s students, particularly the most vulnerable.

Every year, Los Angeles public schools — traditional and charters in LAUSD — receive more than $700 million in federal funding to support programs and services for low-income students, English learners, foster and homeless youth, and students with special needs. These resources, over $400 million delivered via Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), are critical to supporting the success of our high-need children. Beyond ESEA, Los Angeles public schools receive more than $16 million in additional federal funding every year to support school health services and administer workforce development and child nutrition programs.

With the new administration’s stated intentions to take America’s public education system down a drastically different and controversial road through a realignment of current spending, the immediate threats to ESEA dollars are real and imminent. Sound ridiculous? Although unsuccessful, there have been previous attempts to target Title I funding for elimination, and while these efforts were previously met with resistance and outright rejection by Congress, we are now in a new, unprecedented era. With a president who campaigned on the creation of a $20 billion national voucher program, a GOP-led Congress introducing bills to abolish the Department of Education, and a Secretary of Education with no depth of knowledge regarding the intent and impact of federal education funding and policies, a notion that once may have seemed far-fetched is now becoming more and more likely.

While a call to unity and collaboration is a familiar one in the aftermath of the presidential election, the LA education community has already begun to demonstrate this will not be an easy call to answer. Education stakeholders and leaders here have been fractured for years on almost every issue ranging from high school graduation requirements, teacher evaluations, school construction and management, and, perhaps most divisively, on the expansion of the LA charter school sector. These issues are complicated, and the publicly waged battles and demonizing tactics that have been commonplace and committed by all parties have focused on drawing clear battle lines of good vs. evil.

Since the election, throughout DeVos’ confirmation hearings and into the current LAUSD Board of Education election campaign season, we have continued to witness ongoing efforts that reinforce the “good vs. evil” frame that seek to keep us divided as we move forward. These efforts directly undermine our ability to chart a new path — one that is grounded by our collective belief in the fundamental integrity of a strong public education for all students.

Our children need us to call a truce and focus on identifying unifying strategies to win the war ahead. At a national level, organizations such as the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Democrats for Education Reform, and Center for American Progress have already started down this road by creating an education table of unlikely allies that can effectively organize and serve as the necessary checks and balances to the new education agenda. As the second-largest recipient of federal education funding, it is imperative that Los Angeles follow suit. All our children will be watching and counting on us to do so.

If we can succeed in this national fight together, not only will we have succeeded in protecting valuable resources and protections for our children, but we will have also created a foundation upon which to build a new era of local collaboration that focuses on improving all Los Angeles’ public schools so that every student receives the quality education he or she deserves.

Nadia Diaz Funn is the executive director of the Alliance for a Better Community (ABC), a nonprofit organization that promotes the economic prosperity of the Latino community and the Los Angeles region, inclusive of an improved quality of life for Latinos in education, health, and civic participation. She is an LAUSD graduate and worked for LAUSD in various leadership roles.

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