Delivering on the Promise of Public Education

The phrase “delivering on the promise of public education” came up in a meeting recently, and has stuck with me. What can each of us do to deliver on the promise of public education?

I was lucky to attend a panel discussion at Teachers College about how to ensure all kids in New York State have a fighting chance at not being poor as adults. Mike Rebell, who put together the event, was the founder of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, and was likened to Mariano Rivera for his ability to stay focused and committed throughout the series of lawsuits to ensure equitable funding for education in New York State. (Probably a painful metaphor for actual Yankees’ fans in this post-season.)

Despite his and many others’ efforts, New York remains one of the more inequitable states in terms of education funding. And, as Rebell explained in his remarks, poverty and achievement go hand in hand. If you want to have an impact on achievement in the U.S., we have got to look at comprehensive supports for children in poor families, poor communities, and poor schools.

Rebell commissioned 5 papers on this topic, available at equitycampaign.org. The first deals with the constitutional right of every New Yorker to a sound, basic education. Second, he asks what it would cost. Then he asked how much we already put in as a society. And he asked what the return would be: $2 for every $1 invested. Finally, he asked a task force of leaders around the state, including Lucy Friedman and me from TASC, to think about the infrastructure and standards necessary to ensure that all kids can get the comprehensive supports they need.

Randi Weingarten, John King, David Wakelyn, and Mary Anne Schmidt Carey all spoke about the need to use resources efficiently, and to build the public and political will to do so. They all mentioned the need to align existing funds. Panelists shied away from admitting and asserting that ultimately these supports will take additional investment as well.

BUT Mike Rebell did not, stating that although we can’t find resources right now to build our infrastructure and do what’s necessary for kids, what we can do is start a critical conversation to get everyone agreed about how to invest our public and private resources when we have a little more to invest.

Kudos to Mike Rebell for keeping us focused, and getting us through the ninth inning.