Meeting with the Black Caucus in Tallahassee

five for changeMonday three of us from 5forChange met with the group of legislators known as the Black Caucus.  We had been advised by our local representative, Clovis Watson, that we should talk to the broader black community.  He believed they would be supportive of our message about the need to preserve diversity in our public schools.  They were. We were able to explain the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit and why it mattered to each of us.

These are personal, emotional remarks from the heart by parents of children in our public schools.  We represented diversity just by looking at us.

Tarcha Rentz spoke first.  She is a former teacher who grew up in our community and received her Ph.D. in Special Ed. She held everyone’s attention.  Here are her remarks:

I was asked by a close friend to attend a meeting concerning public education at a local law firm. Understanding very little about what I was getting into, I excitedly attended the meeting. During the meeting, I listened quietly to conversations about 5forchange.org’s history, purpose, and mission in connection with the upcoming March 14th case.  I quickly realized who and what were missing from the meeting.  I was the only African American in the room, and the conversations that were occurring involved the academic and social well-being of all students which includes African American children.

I am a pastor’s kid, a wife, an educator, community advocate, and mom to 2 children in public education.  From the first meeting I realized how little I, an educated person understood about public education policy. I became even more concerned about the individuals and communities who are swayed by media propaganda that pits public schools, charters and private schools against each when ultimately we want all children to receive an appropriate and high quality education. I could not pass up the opportunity to collaboratively inform and enlighten others of the upcoming case and 5forchange.org’s efforts  to help make public schools better for not only my children but for all of Florida’s children. Other influential voices need to be a part to our dialogue and to hear about the 5forchange.org movement. We have begun the dialogue with schools, parents, local community leaders and now legislative representatives. Imagine what we can accomplish together.

Khanh-Lien Banko followed Tarcha.  She is an accountant for her family’s small business.

My name is Khanh-Lien Banko.  My husband and I are the parents of 4 public school children.   My mother is an immigrant from Vietnam, and I live in a diverse world.  I value that world.

Let me share a little how a Mom from Gainesville, Florida came to help create 5forCHANGE.org, and what kind of change we are looking to bring.  Our current education system splits our resources to adequately address issues of racism, poverty, and income inequality.  Our system has placed us parents in school choice camps and pitted one against the other, and created an atmosphere of apathy.  Problems seem too big to solve.   5forCHANGE.org is here to fight the apathy.

We started by looking at the issues brought to light through a court case coming to trial on March 14th in Tallahassee.  It is a complex case that asks a simple question.  (Look at the back of the yellow card.)  Does our system of free public schools provide our children with what is written in Article IX?  My personal answer is no and I must act.

The power of one educator and one parent talking to their community with the well being of their children’s education in mind is not valued in our current education system.  At a state level and federal level, we are dividing communities, labeling schools and losing sight of the public in public education.

It’s all about numbers, not about bringing people together to solve problems.

Parents can help educators and other parents come together.  We created 5forCHANGE.org to fight community apathy.  Our common ground is parent’s love for their children and our hope to build a better system for ALL children.  Building relationships through dialog brings understanding and will enrich the education of all children.  5forCHANGE.org is a platform for educators and parents to express what they need their schools to be.

In Alachua County, through our efforts with 5forCHANGE.org, we are talking to each other and listening to fill those needs.  For example, we are forming an Alachua County Council PTA, where we can share ideas across our district, provide better resources for our schools, and advocate for ALL students in our district.  Through our 5forCHANGE.org dialog, we know our involvement is not optional, it is required to continue to make our public education community stronger in Alachua County.

How do we create dialog?  5forCHANGE.org has begun Community Talk with the purpose of creating dialog within neighborhoods to discuss what they can do to improve our public education system.

Tonight, we are asking you for 2 things:

  1. Take this “Community Talk” back to your constituents.  Give us a contact, a Superintendent or community leader to share what is happening in your community and how we parents can work together.  Not everyone will be willing to take on a community talk, so take some yellow cards and share this message with those you know are interested.   We will follow up with you to help us get started in your district.
  2. We ask you as our representatives, uphold the current language in Article IX, the strongest language country.  Article IX gives ALL of Florida’s diverse children a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of FREE public education.

I was last.  I simply said that when the group looked at us, they could see the diversity we were seeking.  They could understand why we were concerned about ALL children.  I reported on the increased segregation brought on by school choice.  I talked about the impact on families when their child may be excluded or dismissed because they did not ‘fit’ the school.  Then, I began to answer questions–lots of questions–this was a good evening.

Now we have a plan to update everyone, including the members of the Black Caucus, on the progress of the trial.  We will be able to send out daily posts on highlights.  Watch for them.  Keep the attorneys in your thoughts.  You can send them a donation, if you can.  It costs a lot to live in Tallahassee for five weeks when you operate in a non-profit public service law firm, every dollar counts.  A member of the Southern Legal Counsel’s board has put up a matching grant for $20,000.  Every dollar we give will be matched!!

Posted in Charter Schools, Civil Rights, Florida, Lawsuits.

Leave a Reply