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Marion Barry is right on educational reform

I read with affirmative agreement the opinion of Marion Barry published in the Washington Post on Sunday, April 10, 2011, entitled “School reform has passed low-income neighborhoods by”.
 Gary L. Flowers

“All public schools should be ‘choice’, and students should be ‘chosen’”

 – Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

I read with affirmative agreement the opinion of Marion Barry published in the Washington Post on Sunday, April 10, 2011, entitled “School reform has passed low-income neighborhoods by”.

After all, Barry (former D.C. mayor and councilman, has strong educational credentials on which to base his opinion.  Prior to his distinguished political career as mayor of Washington D.C. – and revitalizing the nation’s capital in economic development – he was a grade-A scholar and student leader.  He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis in 1954, earned a bachelor’s degree from LeMoyne College in 1958, and later was a chemistry major at Fisk University in Nashville.

 As a student leader, Barry was selected to attend Boy’s Nation, where he met political geniuses in persona of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. and Willie Brown (former San Francisco Mayor).  The three in their own right would contribute mightily to educational reform in Illinois and California, in particular, and the entire nation in general.

I concur with Mayor Barry’s philosophy that the most educationally needy public school districts in America should receive the most funding. We can look no further than the example of water seeping through the cracks of a leaky wall.  Wise is the repairer who addresses the portions of the wall reflects breaches.  The same is true for educational reform.  For starters, school districts in the most need should receive the most money.  In the nation’s capital and throughout America “school reform” has by-passed the poor.

Instead, (schools) in many public school neighborhoods with the highest per capita income receive the most funding based on a property real estate formula.  Such formulas are inherently weighted to the wealthy.  For example, the so-called school reform plan proposed by former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty and former school Chancellor Michelle Rhee put low-income neighborhoods in the back of the proverbial funding class.  For example, $225 million dollars in D.C. went to wealthy wards, while only $93 million was received in poorer wards.

To add insult to injury, Fenty and Rhee promoted private corporations (Wal-Mart etc.) to provide funding for charter schools in Washington on the flimsy legal distinction that charter schools are technically public schools.  Not really.  Charter schools have investors who seek a return on their financial investment.  When Barry and those of us who “smelled a rat” voted to unseat Fenty (and thus Rhee) Wal-Mart threatened to retract its funding offer to the D.C. public schools unless the new mayor, Vincent Gray, retained Rhee. Rhee’s contract was not renewed and now she has been hired by the New Jersey Department of Education with the aid of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s private money.  The irritating irony is that the disparity of funding and the wooing of private dollars for public education in Washington, D.C. have taken place under the nose of the United States Department of Education.

Nationally, the federal government only contributes 9 percent of all funding for public education in America.  Nearly every industrial country around the world fully funds its public school system except the United States.  America cannot educationally compete with world powers such as China and India without a fully funded public school system.

Barry makes a compelling point that effective school reform would involve the establishment and development of high quality schools in every neighborhood, and a set of goals and programs aimed at greatly reducing truancy and dropouts while increasing graduation rates.

Yet, I believe in even more structural educational reform in the United States.  Congress should enact a Constitutional Amendment to make an equal and high quality education an individual right of all children, regardless of resources (via existing legislation sponsored by Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) and articulated in his book, “A More Perfect Union.” Furthermore, the White House and Congress should at least support and enact, respectively, significantly raising the percentage of federal funding for public education. Both are critical in ensuring equal educational opportunity for every American student.

(Gary L. Flowers is the Executive Director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.)

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