Coast to coast parent activism: Our busy summer!

As summer winds down, it’s hard to move on from summertime BBQs, family outings, long walks, cheering on our kids’ summer sports and rooting for the Taney Dragons baseball team. Here at Parents United, we mixed family with coast-to-coast parent activism that kept us busier than ever building relationships, learning new strategies and highlighting important struggles in Philly. Here’s some of what we did:

Parent Susan Spicka of Shippensburg and Education Matters in the Cumberland Valley speaks.
Parent Susan Spicka of Education Matters in the Cumberland Valley speaks in June in Harrisburg.

Harrisburg: We were not silent

June was dominated by a flurry of activity in Harrisburg, a place consumed by last-minute budget jockeying. You would think our legislators would make sure important issues like school budgets stay sensible and sane, but in the end, budgets boil down to backroom wheeling and dealing and jaw-dropping horsetrading that elevate seemingly narrow interests while leaving behind the public interest.

Advocacy and organizing groups like PCAPs, PCCY, Education Voters PA, Action United and others did yeoman’s work to shine a hard light of public decency on the goings on in the state capitol. These actions culminated in a five day sit-in outside the Governor’s office, and continued phone calls, letters and advocacy throughout the session. Parents United’s Helen Gym and Rebecca Poyourow participated in the lead off sit-in, and Robin Roberts and Kendra Brooks joined in on the Harrisburg actions. As everyone knows, despite unprecedented action, the cigarette tax (now a cigarette tax/charter school approval/hotel tax bill) failed to make its way through the Senate and is delayed for further discussion until mid September.

It might be easy to look back on this and ask whether it was worth it. I don’t think there’s any question it was, despite the outcome. We organized and moved ourselves, met more legislators, and frankly, the governor today is down 25 points! in the polls going into the November gubernatorial election. We may not have gotten what we wanted, but we were not silent. And right now, we think that matters more than ever.

Healthy, safe schools means fighting for school nurses


In mid-July, Parents United’s Robin Roberts headed to Washington, DC for a national conference on public school nurses. The two-day event connected us to parents, advocates, school nurses and advocacy and funding groups interested in supporting local and national efforts to bring a school nurse to every school. One of the speakers talked about a parent-led victory in Durham, NC, where parents won a commitment from their school district to put a nurse in every school. Robin testified about the nursing shortage in Philadelphia’s public schools and unclear and dangerous guidelines for medical care that relied on 911 and the discretion of school staff largely unprepared to handle potential life and death situations. Parents United is committed to supporting school nurses as a critical aspect of safe, caring, and responsible school environments.

From Los Angeles to Detroit, Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education

In July, I headed to Detroit, MI, to speak at Netroots Nation, a gathering of political and community activists around the country. I spoke on a panel called “Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education, which brought together educators and community members from Minneapolis to Chicago to Philly to outline both the threats to public education and the possibilities of pushback. You can watch the entire panel above, worth it simply to hear Chicago community organizer Jitu Brown bring down the house.

I spoke about a couple of lessons from Netroots Nation over at the Public School Notebook but here are quick takeaways:

  • Most non-educators really don’t understand education reform. To them, ed reform is synonymous with improving schools. As you can see from the panel above, Jitu Brown and others are outlining in crystal clear detail the damaging consequences of relentless and unresponsive ed reform policies (funding inequity, abusive disciplinary policies, privatization, massive charter expansion, mass school closings) not just on schools but on whole cities. We have to take a hard look at the damage done by ed reform policies leaving neighborhoods devastated in the wake of reckless and experimental action.
  • Education reform policies like these have now become a launching pad for some of the grossest abuses in the dismantling of public services nationwide. In Detroit, an emergency manager who superseded an elected school board and shuttered dozens of city schools was a precursor for a city emergency manager who overran local governance and was shutting off water to hundreds of thousands of Detroit residents, while letting wealthy delinquents like golf courses and sports teams off the hook. We’re being naive if we don’t make the connection between what’s happening to our schools and what we’re doing more broadly as a nation in terms of attacks on poverty, attacks on immigrants – most of whom are in our public schools too – and attacks on women and women in labor, in particular.
  • Inspirational moments: Joining the Detroit Water Brigade as part of a rally that brought together the 1000+ Netroots participants with Detroit residents and activists. The rally made national news and resulted in a compromise that reduced the punishing water stoppages.
  • Inspirational moments: Listening to the Rev. Dr. William Barber, leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement, who called for fusion politics and mass coalition-building to re-establish a re-newed moral and civil rights agenda for our time – of which education is but one part. This is where I see the future going and what inspires me today. Take a listen below. It’s worth it.

There’s more!

  • I headed to Washington DC for a national convening of Parents Across America, a national group of parents working for quality public schools. PAA has dozens of chapters around the country with some really dynamic leaders. This year, a major focus of PAA has been on data privacy. Data privacy hit home for us last year when the Philadelphia School Partnership initiated a “universal enrollment” proposal to try and take over the enrollment and placement of all students in district, charter and parochial schools. Not only would this proposal put critical decisions like school placement into private hands; all data which determined student placement would also become privately accessible. That’s why Parents United for Public Education signed onto a call to demand that Congressional leaders strengthen federal privacy guidelines to protect student data. Feel free to contact us about this campaign.
  • Parents United’s Mark Tyler brought prayer, justice, faith and peace to Ferguson, MO, where communities have been organizing around the horrifying death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown and the off-the-chart militarization of police officers who tried to suppress community gatherings and marches with tear gas and shocking aggression. Mark went as a large delegation of faith communities nationally. We thank Mark and his wife and indispensable partner Leslie for this transformative work!
  • Parents United’s Kendra Brooks is now staff with Action United and this summer traveled to gorgeous Jackson Hole, WY, to attend the Federal Reserve Conference to represent the views of working Americans. We are so proud of the amazing work this public school mom is doing to impact the national debate and dialogue and STILL keep her focus on Steel School. Read more about Kendra’s amazing work this past year here.

If you saw or did something amazing, please share it with us here!