I am a product of a public education. I grew up attending public schools until an incident of bullying in my sophomore year of high school changed the trajectory of my education. And I remember when charter schools were an innovative idea to provide a quick-fix alternative to a crumbling public school system. I was a supporter of the movement because our children needed to be in a learning environment that was not only safe but appeared to have academic integrity and well-being of our children at the forefront of their mission. At no time could I have foreseen how this well intentioned intervention would be hijacked and misused as a pipeline for special interest to pilfer our tax dollars with no oversight. I believed charter schools were a quick fix for contemporary students and parents that not only highlighted the failures of our public schools but incentivized governing bodies to not only demand their rehabilitation but most importantly properly fund this endeavor.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the Arizona ACLU’s Demand To Learn Campaign was born to address the lack of oversight, transparency, and accountability of the charter schools in this state. We are an alliance of like-minded individuals whose only concerns are that each and every child receives the best education possible and the taxes we work so very hard to contribute to our society be utilized as lawfully intended and for the better good of all. The charter school system in Arizona is designed for charter holders to operate without oversight or transparency which ultimately leads to no accountability and greater yet they operate with impunity. Demand To Learn is a cohort of experienced and learned minds of parents, educators, grandparents, students, clergy, community members, administrators, and business professionals who have created a movement to return our tax payer funded public schools to their proper and crucial place in society. When every child is afforded an equitable education in which harsh disciplinary policies like Zero Tolerance and other exclusionary practices designed for student push-out is obsolete we will be no more. When discriminatory enrollment practices are no longer used as the first stop on the school-to-prison pipeline we will be no more. When every child in allowed to manifest their own truth in whom they love and honoring their own identities we will be no more. When children with education and emotional challenges can be embraced by their community schools for the neuro-diversity they gift society and provide the best opportunity for them to flourish we will be no more. When parents are no longer oppressed by the school’s demands for financial and time obligations we will be no more.
This is a critical campaign at a critical time and we must unify our efforts so that no parent ever feels the pain, trauma, guilt, sacrifice, and loss we have experienced. Demand To Learn is about making certain that those endowed with our hard-earned funds and the obligation to provide equitable education for each and every child do what they are paid to do. And until that happens we will continue to grow, compile evidence, and strategically create a system that every Arizona citizen can be proud of.
So many of us are out in our communities doing so much already fighting the good fight and to you we shower you in gratitude. To those on the fence about who we are and what we do, we invite you to examine the evidence, review the data, familiarize yourself with the research and educate yourselves on the true story of what is happening with Arizona State Charter Schools. Our efforts are still in their infancy and it is so important now post-elections to collaborate in ensuring all our students have access to an equitable education.
We invite you to attend a public charter school board meeting so you can witness things like board members donating funds to programs at charter schools whose charter holder sits on the board alongside them. You can see for yourself the indifference, curt, and often dismissive tones used in exchanges with the Demand To Learn representatives when all we are doing is asking for oversight and data.
There are 200,000 students in over 530 public charter schools in this state and the conduct of the board at public meetings in plain sight of video recording and the press is alarming. If this behavior is so blatant with eyes watching, it is beyond credible to conclude much more egregious acts are happening outside of public awareness.
I began my service with the ACLU’s Demand To Learn campaign when a board member asked to hear “real stories” from their report. Since then parents like me have courageously stood before individuals whom we know are complicit in the suffering we have endured. But we did it anyway. When the Board finally represented themselves as interested in collaboration we welcomed them to the table. When the Board on several occasions invited us to bring our complaints directly to them we acquiesced. And when the board realized the gravity of our experiences and the depth of their obligations they revert to grade school playground tactics of intimidation, gaslighting, and character assassination by eliciting the Attorney General to join in their efforts by calling our complaints bogus.
Telling a mother who has to fight every day to get services for her child her experience is bogus. Telling a grandparent who is struggling to advocate for their grandchild their stories are bogus. Telling a Spanish speaker who must have their child translate every piece of paper and email from the school their story is bogus. Telling parents who struggle to manage socio-economic inequities that their stories are bogus. When parents blessed with mobility and education are told their child’s needs will be better served at other schools you tell them their stories are bogus.
The financial mishandling and subsequent decisions made by the Arizona State Charter Board promote inequities of push-out that grab and affect everyone and cover all backgrounds. So when tactics are used instead of authentic and sincere engagement we call that bogus and pathetic. The board has an obligation to investigate all complaints and provide oversight of each and every charter school for compliance with state and federal law; Something that seems to threaten the board.
The members of Demand To Learn have been through the fires and come out the other side wiser and more resilient. Tactics are a useless distraction and are ineffective in swaying our efforts. The citizens of Arizona can easily connect the dots of evidence, data, and research and conclude the truth with little effort.
When the civil liberties of children are in question no amount of shaming, bullying, character assassination, or misrepresentation of the truth has any hope of penetrating the resolve forged in the belly of the schools under their watch. The time for games, distractions, and tactics has long passed. We must begin working together in a cohesive, inclusive, respectful, and transparent forum to address an unsustainable system that does not serve the greater good. I challenge the board to prove us wrong on this undeniable truth. Won’t you join us?