Education Justice Project Addressing Inequity in DC Schools

There remains a crisis in inequality in education in the District and across the nation. Far too often, the quality of education students receive depends on the color of their skin, the income of their family, the language they speak, the neighborhood in which they live, and whether they have a disability. Children of color, those with disabilities, and English language learners are much more frequently denied the opportunity to thrive and achieve their aspirations. Seventy-one percent of the District’s African-American students attend schools that are 99 to 100% Black, 77% of all DC public school students are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program, and test score gaps between White students and students of color persist.

As the Committee enters our 50th year advocating for civil rights, we are returning to our roots and focusing on issues of racial justice and equity. In line with this focus and the needs of our community, the Education Project is changing its name to Education Justice and officially adding advocacy and litigation to its portfolio of work.

At our Quarterly Education Justice lunch, we reported on our work. Jhonna Turner, our Parent Empowerment (PEP) Coordinator, illustrated how matching grants from our PEP fund supported local parent teacher organizations in their funding of literacy and STEM programs at their school. She talked about how parent groups are connecting more to each other and are advancing their collective ability to have an effective voice in improving their schools and the public school system. Jhonna also shared that the PEP Fund is currently seeking applications and will be announcing six new grants in October to parent teacher organizations in DCPS Title I schools.         

We also heard about the enrichment that firms bring to schools in low-income neighborhoods through our DC Public School Partnership Program. More than 50 law firms contribute thousands of hours each year to ensure that students in under-resourced schools get opportunities for experiences that encourage every student to reach her or his potential.

Finally, key upcoming events were announced. Mark your calendars!

  • Week of November 13: Attorney mentors will help their Street Law classes participate in a mock trial focused on human rights issues.
  • November 14: The GeoPlunge Tournament at the National Portrait Gallery.
  • November 16: The Committee, along with the Coalition of DC Public Schools and Communities and Teaching for Change, will host a viewing of the documentary Backpack Full of Cash, narrated by Matt Damon and produced by Sarah Mondale and Vera Aranow. After the screening, Jonathan Smith will moderate a panel discussion of the film, which demonstrates the challenges that school vouchers and charter schools are presenting to urban public school systems. The panel will include Leslie Fenwick, Dean Emeritus and Professor of the Howard University School of Education and Joshua Starr, former Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools. The Mayor, the Deputy Mayor for Education, and all members of the DC Council have been invited, as well as leaders of DCPS and charter schools, all Ward education councils, and other education advocates throughout the entire city. Contact Kent_Withycombe@washlaw.org if you are interested in attending.
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