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Crusey: A Call to Action From New Alliance for Education Reformers to Put Their Own Skin in the Political Game — and Vote

At the recent NewSchools Venture Fund annual summit, several of us — all Allies for Educational Equity — were shocked to learn that turnout for the recent Dallas mayoral election was an appalling 6 percent of eligible voters. In Los Angeles, a municipal election drew a “record” 20 percent. We wondered who, in that crowd of edu-wonks, entrepreneurs, foundation staff, and advocates from Dallas, were in the 6 percent — and who were in the 94 percent that stayed home. For those from Los Angeles, were they among the 80 percent or the 20 percent?

When we turn the lens on ourselves, what is our own propensity to engage actively as citizens?

Allies for Educational Equity, a grassroots-funded, nonpartisan political action committee, seeks to address this. Our mission is to unite the political voices of education reformers so ZIP codes don’t determine destinies. So far, there are more than 180 of us from 28 states, plus Washington, D.C., who vote in more than 70 distinct congressional districts.

To date, we have emphasized the importance of putting our own skin in the political game; we need to demonstrate that we’re willing to back up our commitment to the laudable objective of great schools for all, and the recognition of the innate potential of each child, politically with our own, personal, hard-earned funds. To that end, we are pooling our own (modest but meaningful) contributions from our peers nationwide.

Now, we are broadening our call to action to underscore that political engagement also means we will show up to vote — not just for presidential or midterm congressional elections but also for down-ballot and off-cycle races where turnout is historically well below 25 percent. Because this is where adults whose decision-making impacts schoolchildren’s daily lives get elected.

As civic participation can take a lot of different forms, we also engage as informed citizens to determine the best use of our pooled funds where we live. Doing so requires us to interact with peers who share common values and principles, but who may have different perspectives in the nuances of policy or practice, and who may bring differing experiences to our work. Those opportunities for interaction and active engagement in civic activity are powerful as a practice, and for impact.

Recently, our Allies in Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia expressed ourselves politically through voting at local polls; soon, our colleagues in California, Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and New Jersey will do the same. While we don’t pretend that the 180-plus of us have the power to tip the scales of any legislative action or electoral outcome, we do know that each dollar and each vote counts, and we urge our peers who haven’t yet joined us as Allies to do so. We must elevate the voices of parents and children, and we must also use our own. After all, we are constituents, too.

Lea M. Crusey is the founder and CEO of Allies for Educational Equity, a national nonpartisan political action committee. She started her career as a classroom educator through Teach for America and has served at the U.S. Department of Education, Democrats for Education Reform, and StudentsFirst. Among the education reformers who have joined Allies for Educational Equity, who attended the NewSchools Venture Fund summit and asked to be named in support of this opinion piece, are Joni Angel, Jacqueline Cooper, Alex Johnston, Tom Krebs, Jonathan Nikkila, Jessica Eastman Stewart, Sonia Park, and Robbyn Wahby.

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