After two meetings with the Kent Intermediate School District and other leaders on the Strong Schools, Strong Communities millage, The Equity PAC membership has voted unanimously to support in an electronic vote. This is only the second time that 100% of membership voting has done so in the affirmative for any ballot initiative or candidate.
After weighing the issues, the dominant reasoning expressed among members for endorsing was two-fold. First, there is no alternative for districts to the lack of state funding. Second, this millage will lock in funding to districts on the periphery of Grand Rapids that are seeing an increase in students from low-income situations.
One member said,
“I have two kids in GRPS (Grand Rapids Public Schools). I know the need is there. And I know our state legislature has been gutting education funding for years.”
While another said,
“…I am more concerned about not passing it than passing it. As folks are displaced (out of the city into outlying districts), I think it’s imperative that districts can accommodate influx.”
Despite the unanimity of the endorsement and the overall high level of confidence expressed by members in their endorsement votes, there was a deep recognition that a millage alone is not going to sustain our schools or address educational equity.
One member commented,
“Although it helps disadvantaged populations it isn’t going to significantly close the equity gap caused by state funding system”
Another member said,
“I also do not want to pay additional taxes as a band aid to educational and funding challenges our state legislature and educational leadership should be tackling.”
So despite the unanimity and confidence in this endorsement, there is recognition by membership of deeper funding issues at the state level that absolutely need to be addressed to have a sustainable, equitable and thriving educational system for our children.
It is with these concerns of our membership in mind that Equity PAC endorses this millage. We believe that this endorsement is a jumping off opportunity for our region to more strongly advocate to the state that a stronger investment in our school is what the people want. With this endorsement, Equity PAC is also committed to seeing through the following recommendations, and will support the efforts of local districts in using this as an opportunity to create more equitable education for all students in Kent County.
1. Study of impact of displacement on the Kent Intermediate School District (KISD)
Grand Rapids is experiencing high income growth at its core, which is displacing low income families to the periphery of the city. It will be vitally important that the KISD studies and provides public analysis about the impact of displacement. It will also be important that it uses this analysis to be proactive about how to ensure that as our city changes school districts are resourced and prepared for those changes.
2. Advocating for increased state funding for education
We were concerned passing this millage may send a message to the state legislature that fully funding all districts is no longer necessary. It is incredibly important that this millage is used as a way to spark grassroots advocacy toward state-level policy change rather than accepting a future that sees little to no support from the state. Equity PAC will examine how we can play a role in advocating more strongly in this area.
3. Safer and more critically examined educational spaces
We also see it as vital for all school districts to build stronger curriculum and policies that support racial inclusion. In the fall, incidents at the Forest Hills Central v. Ottawa Hills football game demonstrated there is a deep need for critical thinking skills by students regarding what many in this community are experiencing due to down stream impacts of policy changes at the national level. It is important the educational institutions are safe, positive learning spaces that are able to critically frame current events based on history, political science and the lived experiences of all of its students and families. Schools must resist framing its space and curriculum around only a dominant culture experience.
We encourage the KISD and outlying school districts to continue working with the Grand Rapids Urban League to assess and take action in spaces to ensure that the freedom of political speech does not go unexamined in its material impact on all students and families. Indeed, it is our educational institutions that should prepare us to tackle threats to freedom and democracy for all.
Originally published April 30, 2017 on Medium.com.