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The Power of Social Movements and Organized Resistance: Part I – GRPS back tracks on School Budget cuts in the face of community opposition

June 29, 2020

“Public education is not broken. It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong. Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation. But public education is not ‘broken.’ Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.”    Diane Ravitch

For weeks that Grand Rapids Public Schools have made it known that they were planning on making major cuts to their budget, in light of the COVID-19 crisis and reduced State funding.

The initial proposed cuts were to close three schools in the district and to make changes to the Montessori programs. Upon hearing this news, many members of the community communicated with the school district, expressing their opposition to the proposed cuts. In addition to individual responses, there were at least two community-based groups that also opposed the proposed GRPS budget cuts, Grand Rapids for Education Justice and the Urban Core Collective.

In fact, there was so much public opposition to the initial GRPS budget cut proposal, that the GRPS backtracked on virtually every aspect of the initial proposal. The GRPS released a statement saying that there will be no school closings and no changes to the Montessori programs. In fact, the public response got the GRPS to make budget cuts exactly where the organized opposition suggested. The GRPS statement said the cuts would be with, “additional staff and budget reductions at the cabinet and central office levels in order to limit potential reduction of teaching positions.”

We spoke with organizers with Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) and the Urban Core Collective about the importance of organized resistance to the initial proposed GRPD budget cuts and the power that social movements can have.

Jack Prince, a volunteer organizer with GREJ, had to say:

“The GREJ is encouraged to see the GRPS district responding to long persisted concerns and objectives which have been espoused by the group for months. Members were buoyed today to hear that the district would indeed halt the closing of 3 targeted schools and would replace lost funding to  ensure their continuance by reducing administration pay. This is especially rewarding as the GREJ through consistent and organized protest had stressed that the exceedingly high administrative pay could be better used to further the education of students here. Many postings and presentations to the board highlighted the sheer and empirical data exposing outrageous pay comparison to other local districts. It has become clear today how important to us to continue with facts and stay true to our objectives of fairness. We want to push on with such objectives as seeing the closing of theme schools and the enrichment and restoration of the local neighborhood schools. We will continue to push for the cessation of privatization and the increase of compensation for the hard working teachers. We have now seen progress in some dismantling of the two tier system and will not rest until all our objectives are realized.”

The Urban Core Collective has also been organizing around GRPS policies over the last year. They hosted an event, where they interviewed two representatives with the GRPS to discuss the proposed budget cuts and to invite community members to call in and ask additional questions. This input also had a tremendous impact on the decision by the GRPS to drastically alter their original budget cut plan.

GRIID spoke with Kyle Lim, who is a member of the Urban Core Collective, to get his take on the importance of organized opposition to the original GRPS budget cut proposal.

These changes to GRPS policy decisions are a direct result of our community getting organized and speaking up for what is important. Budgets are moral documents, and it is critical that we demand institutions to live up to our values of justice and equity. But we are entering into a season of decision-making… so it is critical that we stay attentive, but it is most important that we stay organized and committed to our values.”

It is important to note that both the Urban Core Collective and Grand Rapids for Education Justice have only been organizing around public education policy and the GRPS in the past 9 months. Despite being relatively new in the fight for public education, both groups have had a significant impact on the GRPS budget and both groups have acknowledged that there are numerous other policy changes they seek to change in the coming school year.

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