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‘Put our children first’ when it comes to education

4/12/2019, 6 a.m.
As a native of Prince Edward County, I think the number of folks using the Brown v. Board of Education ...

As a native of Prince Edward County, I think the number of folks using the Brown v. Board of Education decision to perpetuate their respective narratives regarding the state of our public schools, specifically Richmond Public Schools, is appalling.

Twenty-first century Americans may celebrate the landmark Brown decision often, but they regularly glare over this important truism: American schools have never been equitable because they were not designed to serve all students.

As we learn from the burgeoning college admissions scandal, if you have money, power and privilege, you can buy the education you desire in America.

The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling stated that separate but equal was unconstitutional, but Congress’ deliberate inaction during the past 65 years has failed to guarantee that a quality education is a right afforded to all. School divisions with high concentrations of black and brown students have a tendency to fail to provide students with courses that challenge them academically and are often funded in an inequitable manner.

In Richmond, our students continue to attend schools that are still segregated, overcrowded and under-funded.

When I joined Virginia Excels last year, my goal was to eventually end the fight that began in Farmville in 1951. Leading an educational advocacy organization felt like a natural fit because I began advocating for myself as a seventh-grader at Prince Edward County Middle School. Unfortunately, and to my chagrin, many of the conditions that led to students walking out of R. R. Moton High School on April 23, 1951, are prevalent in 2019 in Richmond Public Schools. The decrepit buildings plagued with rodents and extreme temperatures, coupled with faculty and staff who feel abandoned, creates an environment that is not conducive to learning for our future leaders.

During the past few months, I’ve listened to scores of people from across many spectrums share their concerns about RPS. Students expressed that they feel invisible as they sit in freezing classrooms filled with foul aromas. I’ve heard parents say that if they lived on another side of the city, their children would receive a different education. I’ve heard the community ask, “What if these students received a rigorous education that prepared them for the global economy?”

I’ve participated in two marches demanding that the state re-invest significantly in public education. During this same period, I’ve heard folks say, “The city needs to ante up as well.”

While the city needs to do more to improve our schools, we must acknowledge that Richmond loses a significant amount of revenue on property that cannot be taxed. Issues like the absence of taxable property perpetuate the continued inequity we are battling; we must take a brave step forward for our kids.

Last summer, that step was the city meals tax increase, which was implemented for the sole purpose of building new schools. That bold move has paid dividends. We are building three new schools that will open in fall 2020! The new schools will bring some much-needed dignity. But to truly transform our educational system, we need more than new buildings. This transformation will only come with a continued investment to develop and implement innovative methods and a culturally relevant pedagogy.