Far too often elected officials have stressed the importance of fixing our schools and providing more instructional resources for our children; however, little has changed in the funding model short term and long term. This year, the historic Richmond Crusade for Voters organization and well known Richmond advocate/attorney, Paul Goldman, combined efforts to push the agenda of finally modernizing Richmond Public Schools. For educational purposes, the Richmond Crusade for Voters was founded in 1956 with the goal of supporting school integration and increase the influence of black residents in the political process. Over the course of its organizational existence, they have fought for changes to poll taxes and other community issues in the city. Paul Goldman was a key player in creating our Mayor at large model in the city. Throughout this year, the Crusade mobilized its 80 plus members to collect over 15,000 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot this year.
This referendum, if passed, will call for the charter to be amended to include Section 6.15 – Fulfilling the Promise of Equal Educational Opportunities. The proposition, which is roughly 350 words in length, begins by invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote from the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The highlights of the language you will see on the ballot is that “Not later than six months after this section becomes law, the Mayor shall formally present to the City Council a fully-funded plan to modernize the city’s K-12 educational infrastructure consistent with national standards or inform City Council such a plan is not feasible.” The kicker about this referendum is that it REQUIRES that the plan not rely on NEW or INCREASED taxes and the City Council will have 90 days to take action on the plan.
Many elected officials in the City have been on the fence about voters voting “Yes” on this referendum. One may ask, “Why would you not want to fully support creating policy that would require a funding strategy to be created and implemented? Well, it’s actually very simple. Accountability. It’s hard to want to support a referendum that puts you on the hot seat. In fact, that is exactly what supporters of this referendum are looking to accomplish. We will clearly know who is in charge of fixing the school buildings and how long they will have to present a plan.
Indeed, this level of accountability may pose an issue for Mayor Levar Stoney who introduced an Education Compact earlier this year, which hasn’t yet met its initial expectations. To be fair and balanced, most of what I’ve heard from the Mayor is that the referendum is flawed and could hinder financial options to modernize our schools long term. I wish I could have 100% faith in this logic. Unfortunately, this is coming from the same political playbook we have seen for decades.
While talking with a group of highly engaged millennials, I was told that roughly ninety percent of Richmond Public School students are minorities, most of them from families with limited means. In addition, one out of every four lives at or below the federal poverty line. In most cases, these children with immense promise attend the most obsolete, unhealthy facilities within the state of Virginia. Enough is enough! The issue of our schools is not a new issue. This issue existed when I moved to Richmond in 2014. This issue was there back in the 1990’s from talking to close friends that grew up in the area. This is why this referendum has so much merit. We have not done enough to prevent the conditions that we see today. The Crusade for Voters and me alike are tired of the city government leaders’ decades of excuses. Vote “Yes” on November 7th to help build the foundation to a Better RPS.