Press Release

Education, Civil Rights and Community Groups Respond to News of Planned Protest at Democratic Presidential Forum in Pittsburgh

For Release:


Oriana Korin

PITTSBURGH—Several leaders of the 11 organizations co-hosting a forum on public education with eight Democratic presidential candidates this weekend—who, combined, represent more than 7 million people, including the Alliance for Educational Justice, the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Journey for Justice Alliance, the NAACP, the Network for Public Education, OnePA and the Opportunity to Learn Action Fund—issued the following statement:

Alliance for Educational Justice National Director Jonathan Stith said:

“The mandate of black and brown students in the Alliance for Educational Justice is to end the school-to-prison pipeline wherever it rears itself.  We stand with those who stand with us against the prisonization and privatization of our schools. Students of color are in a crisis wherever they attend class. Our schools are over-policed and under-resourced, and we have no rights the federal government feels bound to protect. Our fight is for sustainable community schools that don't need police, where Black and Brown students and their parents are respected and are able to determine the education we deserve.” 

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said:

“We are so excited that there are candidates for president who believe in public education and want to engage with the students who go to our public schools, the parents who rely on our public schools, the allies who advocate for our public schools, and the educators who work in our public schools. After all, public schools are the foundation of our democracy. That’s why Saturday’s education forum will be all about engagement—engagement around the issues that matter to all of us. We are united behind a single goal: to engage the candidates in a wide-ranging, important conversation about public education in our country and how we can best meet the needs of the people who work and learn in them. 

“As to the announced protest, we are wondering why the groups didn’t simply ask any of the conveners whether they could join in the forum. Many of the organizations involved in the forum work with charter schools, many support them, and some represent educators who work in them. We’ve worked for months with partners to accommodate all inquiries from groups that requested participation in the forum. We’d encourage these groups to talk to candidates about their education platforms and proposals, or to consider holding their own forum, instead of staging a protest at the last minute at other groups’ events.

“Notably—and sadly—what we have discovered is that the group behind this protest is tied directly to a Republican campaign firm with connections to President Trump, whose track record, starting with the appointment of Betsy DeVos, the most anti-public school secretary of education in history, certainly speaks for itself.”

Center for Popular Democracy Director of Education Justice Campaigns Dmitri Holtzman said:

"This forum is an important opportunity for young people and allies to speak directly to presidential candidates about the issues that matter most to them and their futures. Education justice centers on the strengthening and uplifting of public education. That's why the Youth Mandate for Presidential Candidates—which has been endorsed by over 150-plus youth-led organizations and allies—calls for an end to federal funding for charter schools and a moratorium on charter expansion. We stand firm in this fight and look forward to discussing these issues with presidential candidates at the forum. Any attempts to protest and disrupt this event undermine democratic and civic engagement about the future of public education."

Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance said:

“We are excited to have Democratic presidential hopefuls speak to the breadth of the education justice movement: parents, educators and students. We know and live through the harm caused by inequities in public education and how the illusion of ‘school choice’ intensifies those inequities. To be clear, we will not be pitted against black and brown parents who support charters.  J4J is not anti-charter school as centers of innovation in our communities. We are, however, firmly anti-charter industry which has advocated for school closings, produced mediocre academic results and done harm by destabilizing education in our communities. We don't have failing schools—as a public we've been failed.”

NEA President Lily Eskelsen-García said:

“All students should have access to a quality public education no matter what ZIP code they were born, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents make. But sadly, for too long, astroturf groups have pushed privatization schemes including charters and vouchers, that divert already scarce money from the public schools that 90 percent of students attend. Despite the fact that these efforts have failed to improve education outcomes for students, Betsy DeVos and her allies continue to support efforts to privatize our public schools. Over the past two years, educators, parents and students across the country have come together in the #RedforEd movement to say enough is enough. It’s time to get serious about student success. Our elected leaders need to focus on the proven steps to ensure every student has access to a quality public school education. That means fully funding our public schools so students have the support and wraparound services they need, more one-on-one attention, inviting classrooms, and a well-rounded curriculum.”

Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris said:

“The Network for Public Education Action believes that public schools are the pillar of our democracy and therefore parents have a right to elect those who govern their schools. Our nation’s most vulnerable children deserve public schools that have the resources to meet their needs. Well-resourced schools are undermined when funds go to privatized alternatives. Privatized choice with charters and vouchers is a means by which to distract the public from the need to equitably fund and support our public schools.”

OnePA leader and Pittsburgh parent Angel Gober said:

“When we win for the most vulnerable and underserved children, we win for all children. Charter schools are not the way.  As a black mother, what I have seen is other families choosing charter schools only to be disappointed by big promises. The lack of special education supports, the lack of innovative curriculum, and the harsh zero-tolerance policies find children right back in their public schools. We cannot continue to fund two separate education systems, especially one that leaves children with disabilities behind.”

Opportunity to Learn Action Fund Director John Jackson said:

“Today’s presidential candidates’ forum is significant because simply having an election doesn’t make a democracy, and after decades of inequities and injustices not only is our democracy on trial, but, by parents, students and educators engaging the candidates, they are placing justice on the ballot.”

# # # #

The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.