As the 2018-19 Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) academic year winds down in the wake of an historic teachers’ strike, Oakland educators, students, and their supporters are continuing to fight against school privatization and for increased public education funding.
“When we struck, we said this is just the beginning,” Oakland Education Association’s (OEA) first vice president Ishmael Armendariz said on May 8, speaking over passing traffic honking in support, to a crowd of over 100 people at a rally outside of Oakland Marriott City Center. OEA, the union representing about 3,000 teachers, nurses, and counselors.
“We are on our way to Sacramento because it’s us, as public school teachers, who need to lead the fight to defend public education,” he said, drumming up support for a May 22 rally, where OEA and its supporters plan to join other California educator unions to flood the capital with people calling for increased public education funding and legislation that limits the growth of charter schools.
The May 8 rally, called “Billionaires Can’t Teach Our Kids!” served as an unwelcoming party for those attending an invitation-only dinner organized by the NewSchools Venture Fund (NSVF), an Oakland -based organization funded through multi-million dollar donations from high-profile billionaires, including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Sam and Helen Walton.
Speakers at the rally said NSVF and its supporters drive school privatization in Oakland, which harms public schools.
“They are essentially using the unlimited funding of the billionaire class to turn public education into a business,” said Redwood Heights Elementary School parent Erin Brightwell, speaking at the rally. “Their ultimate goal is to turn K-12 education into something you have to pay for.”
NSVF’S website claims that they invest “in both nonprofit and for-profit organizations that are working to improve public education in a variety of ways.”
NSVF has invested in several local charter schools including Lighthouse Community Charter, Aspire, and Alliance. They also have invested in Go Public Schools (GO), an organization that many public school advocates claim works to weaken public education while pushing a pro-charter agenda.
GO has financially backed school board members Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Gary Yee and James Harris with campaign funding, all of whom later voted to close Roots International Academy, a public middle school in East Oakland..
While the Roots campus is being taken over by another public school, Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), in Oakland’s recent past public school closures have often meant that a charter school takes over the public school campus.
The former campus of Lakeview Elementary, which closed in 2012, now houses a charter school called American Indian Model School. Marshall Elementary School, which closed in 2013, now houses East Bay Innovation Academy.
OEA and its supporters are seeking and supporting candidates for the upcoming 2020 school board election who won’t vote to close public schools.
Speaking at the May 8 rally, Kaiser Elementary School parent Steve Young said there were good District 5 and District 3 candidates, but a total of four school board seats will still be up for grabs in 2020, meaning that there is a need for two more Oakland community members to run for office who support public schools and stand against charters.
“I will walk till my feet bleed to elect you and to see these corrupt buffoons cast to the winds of history,” said Young, addressing those considering running against current board members.
District 5 school board candidate Mike Hutchinson spoke at the rally, claiming the pro-charter movement can be stopped by a public that is ready to fight for its public schools.
“The only way we can counter money power is with people power,” he said.
“We are not done,” said second OEA Vice President Chaz Garcia. “There are a great number of us here, but there are going to be more of us in Sacramento [at the May 22 rally], and we are going to continue to let them know that we will not allow them to take our public schools.”