In March, just before the New York State budget deadline, AQE made a pivotal decision early on to focus on transitioning our community organizing and advocacy to an entirely online platform. The state budget negotiations didn’t miss a beat, so we couldn’t either.
In a matter of days, we were able to adapt our usual in-person tactics to a time of social distancing. As AQE has adapted to the new realities of organizing in the time of COVID-19, we’ve been able to take the lessons of what works — and what doesn’t — to respond quickly to some of the deeply concerning crises emerging for public schools.
One of the greatest benefits of our shift to organizing exclusively online is that we are able to engage far more people representing more parts of the state than ever before.
We Won Police-Free Schools in Rochester, New York!
The murder of George Floyd sparked protests nationwide and cities around the nation are at last recognizing the danger and harm that police officers in schools represent to Black and Brown students. The Rochester City Council voted to end the contract with the Rochester Police Department, creating police-free public schools, making it the third city in the nation to take this important step in the wake George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent uprisings.
The vote in June represents years of collective work. It took parents, students, community organizations and Rochester parents, all fighting together to realize their vision of Rochester’s schools as a place where students can thrive, and where their educational and socio-emotional needs are met by counselors, psychologists, and restorative justice coaches.
The victory in Rochester is a welcome reminder that together we have the power to create the kind of community we want and that our children deserve. Rochester may be the first district in New York State to end ties with the police department, but it won’t be the last.
Parent & Leadership Development:
Taking on the Task to Reimagine Education
We organized education visioning sessions across New York State — all before July, so we could ensure that parents, students, educators and community members would have a voice in determining what school will look like when it resumes this fall. Utica leaders Deb and Olivia led their local education committee through one of our first visioning sessions.
From those conversations with families, students, and educators, we released our Roadmap for a Just Reopening and Just Schools, as well as an accompanying toolkit. On July 16, we held a community forum to discuss the findings, where we were joined by over 250 parents, as well as two longtime friends of AQE, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon and Congressional candidate Jamaal Bowman.
AQE is represented on the reopening task forces created by both the New York State Board of Regents and the New York City Mayor. The Governor’s task force failed to include any parents or urban educators. In this critical moment, we must advance a vision for education justice that includes parent voices and research proven solutions based on whole child learning. To that end, we are using the Roadmap to advocate with all three task forces, school districts and state policymakers for a reopening that prioritizes the issues of families, students, and educators.
Engaging Federal Leaders in The Education Fight
AQE’s work historically has focused on state and local education issues, but with the pandemic the federal government has become an important player in public education, too. As federal relief bills were negotiated and renegotiated, AQE quickly expanded our advocacy to stay on top of developments at the federal level. On May 30, AQE Executive Director Jasmine Gripper joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a virtual parent organizing workshop. June 11 we held a virtual town hall with Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and State Senator Zellnor Myrie for a discussion on what needs to happen at the federal, state and local level to ensure education equity for New York. And on June 22, we were again joined by Jamaal Bowman for an education town hall centering funding, testing, and educational racism in schools.
Growing Demand for #PoliceFreeSchools & #DefundPolice
COVID is a health pandemic on top of an educational pandemic that is the result of the systemic racism that pervades our society. Our communities are engaged in civil unrest over systemic racism. It is crucial that we use this moment to advance a vision for education justice centered on family, student, and educator voices combined with research proven solutions based on whole child learning.
AQE parents and leaders have stood alongside protesters, online and in person, calling to defund police departments to invest funding in communities and education are escalating nationally. Tanesha Grant, a parent leader in New York City, emceed the March to Defund the NYPD and invest in schools, which was led by youth and supported by parents and AQE’s New York City staff.
Publications and Announcements
We are proud to share that on Thursday, June 18th the State Education Department released the new Fiscal Reporting page, under the Public Data website. This reporting is required under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Over the last few years, AQE has been working to ensure that reporting included aspects or the entirety of the Equity Index we developed. AQE created the Equity Index as a way to illustrate inequities between districts across the state. The Index incorporated the weightings of the Foundation Aid formula in a calculation of a weighted spending per pupil.
When New York State made the decision to close school buildings in response to COVID-19, AQE weighed in early and often on the inequities in the transition to remote learning.
The police-free schools victory in Rochester garnered widespread press attention, locally and nationally.
Chalkbeat published an analysis showing that the education cuts in the New York State budget impacted the neediest students the hardest.