It is often said that public education is the backbone of democracy. Yet, for decades, our government has failed to provide every child with an excellent public education.
Let’s call this system for what it is: educational apartheid.
In 2016, majority-minority school districts received $23 billion less in funding than majority-white districts in the United States. The children who are getting left behind are overwhelmingly African-American, Latinx, immigrant, and poor and working-class children of all races. Many of them live right here in the 16th Congressional District in Westchester County and The Bronx.
As an educator and principal for two decades, I have witnessed firsthand how the denial of basic resources corrodes children’s curiosity, self-worth, intelligence, and dignity. The federal government must stop shirking its responsibilities to our students and communities and finally fulfill its promises on public education.
Instead of privatization, expanding charter schools, and shutting down public schools, let’s equitably invest in our public schools, pay our teachers a living wage, and fund full-time nurses, counselors, social workers in every school.
Instead of a test-and-punish regime that stigmatizes, labels, and ranks students, teachers, and schools, we should educate the whole child: nurturing their physical, cognitive, social, and creative development.
Instead of punitive discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, let’s invest in restorative justice and trauma-informed pedagogy and care.
Our students must graduate high school with the knowledge and skills to be active citizens in our democracy and address the defining challenges of our time: climate catastrophe, growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, economic insecurity, structural racism, lack of universal health care, and endless war.
We need a New Deal for Public Education to repair the wounds of our history and fulfill the promise of our multiracial democracy.
From being a classroom teacher to becoming a principal and founding a public progressive middle school in the Bronx, I have devoted my life to public education, to educating and nurturing our students, supporting their families and taking on the politicians and corporate interests that harm our children and destabilize our communities through privatizing and defunding our schools.
As an educator, I know what our children need in order to make sure every student maximizes their potential. Four out of five students are economically disadvantaged and 97 percent are Black and Latinx at the school I serve. By creating a culture and curriculum that meets the needs of our children, CASA Middle School has received high ratings in school leadership, instructional rigor, and supportive environment -- not to mention trust from parents, students, teachers, and administrators.
But as an educational leader, my responsibility does not stop at the front door of our school. When the state and federal governments wanted to weaponize standardized tests to improperly evaluate and punish our teachers, I joined with parents and educators statewide, I stood up and spoke out and became a leader in the opt-out movement. When one in four families statewide chose to have their children opt-out of standardized tests, we won and the state ended this destructive policy.
When New York State failed to fulfill its promise to invest billions of dollars in new funding into our schools that need it the most, I joined with parents, educators, community groups and organizations like the Alliance for Quality Education to demand that our politicians fully and fairly fund our schools. I worked with others to organize press conferences and rallies, get parents involved in advocacy and lobby our state legislators. As a result, in the last three years, the state has increased funding for public schools by $3 billion, but there is still more work to do.
I’ve fought my entire career with organizations like the Coalition for Education Justice for anti-racist and culturally responsive curriculum in our schools. I’ve challenged the negative aspects of the Common Core curriculum. We were successful in winning a major victory for the implementation of these values and programs in New York City Schools. I have also fought with activists like Nelson Mar at Bronx Legal Services to ensure that all teachers statewide receive trauma-informed training. This work led to the passage of legislation in Albany to conduct a study on the effects of trauma on child development and learning and report the findings of such study and any recommendations to the governor and legislature.
My decision to run for Congress grows out of my experience as an educator, activist, organizer, and advocate for my students and their families. When elected, I will be one of the only school principals ever elected to Congress in our country’s history. I’ll fight to give the same commitment to every student and family in the 16th Congressional District that I have given to the students and families of CASA Middle School.
I will bring people together in our district and in Washington just as I have done in our district and our state for many years regarding issues of education, racial, and economic justice. I have been a champion for our children my entire adult life, and with your support, I can be your education champion in the halls of Congress.
1. Provide excellent educational opportunity for students by dramatically increasing the federal government’s commitment to our children.
Quadrupling annual Title I funding, from $14 billion to $60 billion, for schools and districts with students living in poverty and increasing funding for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) for students with disabilities from $13 billion to $33 billion -- a promise Congress made in 1975, but has broken every year for over four decades.
2. Use the power of the federal government to incentivize states, including New York State, to prioritize educational equity as well.
In 2007, after a 14-year long lawsuit brought by parents, New York State enacted a new school funding formula designed to ensure every student the educational opportunity that is their right. It was a great policy, but for over a decade New York State has abandoned this commitment and failed to use this formula.
As a principal, I have advocated for my school and all schools across the state to get the funding they are owed. As your Congressperson, I will support legislation that links new federal funding to a requirement that states enact and use school funding formulas based on equity. We cannot allow New York State to continue to neglect its responsibilities to our students.
3. Invest at least $3 billion into opening 25,000 community schools.
Community schools are public schools, which have small class sizes, engaging and culturally responsive curriculum, a whole-child approach, school counselors and supports for students’ academic, health and nutritional needs, and parent and community engagement.
4. Prioritize teaching and learning, not testing and punishing.
Ever since No Child Left Behind, the federal government has forced a series of failed interventions on our schools and local communities. They have closed schools, fired principals and teachers and privatized public schools, all based on test scores on federally mandated, and corporate-sponsored and created, standardized tests. These top-down interventions have stressed-out students and teachers, disempowered parents and failed to improve education. Testing should be used to help teachers improve instruction, not to punish students, educators, and schools. We can identify student progress by sampling students using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is a non-punitive test.
As a principal I helped lead the fight against standardized testing As a Member of Congress, I will sponsor and champion legislation to end the federal annual testing requirement from grades three to eight, to dramatically reduce the amount of time students spend taking standardized tests, and to eliminate all high-stakes consequences that have been tied to testing for students, educators, and schools.
5. Focusing education on critical thinking and higher-order learning.
I will push to expand the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority to allow more states to pilot performance-based assessments that examine critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity as a more effective alternative to standardized tests to assess student learning.This is the approach to education we need to nurture students to meet the growing demands of the 21st Century and the needs of a Green New Deal economy.
6. Incentivize school districts to cap class sizes at 20 students.
This is adopted from public schools in Finland, one of the most successful education systems in the world.
7. Raise teacher salaries to the living wage of at least $60,000 a year and support the rights of our educators to collective bargaining and to advocate for quality education for every student.
8. Support efforts to unionize in our schools. Support federal action to counter anti-unionization policies and practices, such as exist in so-called “right to work” states.
9. End funding for the Federal Charter School Program, which has been rife with abuse and mismanagement - to the tune of up to $1 billion.
I support the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on the expansion of publicly funded and privately run charter schools until charter schools have full transparency and accountability and are held to the same standards as public schools. I will oppose any additional federal funding for the expansion of charter schools.
10. Support a ban on charters run by for-profit education management organizations, because education is a public good, not a profit-making opportunity, and a ban on all cyber charter schools which often provide an inferior quality of education.
11. Improve the climate for teaching and learning in schools by ending the school to prison pipeline.
Eliminate federal zero-tolerance discipline policies that force student suspensions for minor offenses, result in huge racial disparities in school discipline and are ineffective at improving school safety. Invest in restorative practices and supports like counselors and Student Help Zones and ensure that all teachers are trained in restorative and trauma-informed practices before stepping into a classroom. This approach is proven to improve school safety and increase academic outcomes.
Incentivize states and school districts to end zero-tolerance discipline such as suspensions, expulsions, disciplinary transfers, and referrals to law enforcement for offenses that could better be handled internally by restorative justice, peer mediation, counselors, and social workers.
Support anti-bullying programs to address harassment of LGBTQ students and students with disabilities.
12. Invest in social workers, counselors, and trauma-informed care with increased investment and with savings from reducing the number of school police officers.
13. Incentivize school districts to require at least 60 minutes of gym and/or recess per day for all students as per the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation.
14. Decriminalize school truancy.
We need effective approaches to student absenteeism, criminalizing truancy for parents and students is totally ineffective. The community school strategy, which includes social workers and counselors will make more progress than cops and jails when it comes to students skipping school. The federal government should use every tool at its disposal to push state and school districts to decriminalize truancy.
15. Guarantee free, universal school meals.
This has been laid out in a proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ilhan Omar. Thanks to advocacy, we have universal free meal program in New York City schools. I will fight to improve it and make it available to every student in every school.
16. Invest in recruiting, hiring, and supporting teachers of color so children of color have teachers who look like them in the classroom. Use holistic measures beyond academic performance to recruit and train preservice teachers.
17. Support and protect English Language Learners and immigrant students
I will support increased investment in programs for English Language Learners to ensure they have access to high-quality coursework, tutoring, and extra supports, bilingual education and special education services and that they are integrated into the school community, not segregated by language. I will also fight to keep our students and their families safe in school by supporting a ban on all federal immigration enforcement activities in schools as well as by defunding ICE.
18. Universal pre-K and childcare for all and providing supports to families from birth to age five by working collaboratively with healthcare professionals through a community school model to support a nurturing home and community for every child.
19. Use Title I and other funding streams to incentivize school districts to integrate and reduce racial segregation.
New York State has the most segregated public schools in the country. We have to realize the promise of the civil rights movement and create justice and equity in our multiracial democracy. Education for a new century is also about new housing policies that integrates neighborhoods, which will integrate our schools.
20. Federal job guarantee to train and hire millions of new teachers, aides, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, nurses, and librarians as we transition into the era of the Green New Deal.
1. Make public colleges and universities and vocational programs tuition-free and provide grants to students to help cover living expenses. This can be largely funded through raising taxes on Wall Street and a wealth tax.
2. Cancel all student loan debt. This can be largely funded through raising taxes on Wall Street and a wealth tax.
3. Ban for-profit colleges.
4. Universal higher education in prisons: reinstate Pell Grants for incarcerated students.
5. Multi-billion dollar federal investment in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
6. Support labor organizing on campuses for adjunct faculty and staff in higher education.