Promise Lee

“911! Our children are in serious trouble! They need help, and they need it now! This is an emergency!”

Anyone dialing “911” expects immediate action. The good people who answer these calls are paid by our tax dollars, they work for us. They are trained to do two things: one, provide direct assistance if possible; two, send help immediately. They promptly assess the emergency and respond accordingly, dispatching professionals trained to take immediate, life-saving actions.

But not all responses are equal. Responses to 911 calls in low socioeconomic neighborhoods may not be as quick as in more affluent areas. Demographics are often a reliable predictor of slow response times to emergency calls. Sadly, this appears to be the same problem within our school districts, where children’s zip codes, race, and economic status have shackled them to the back of the line when it comes to receiving a quality education.

This article is a follow-up to my recent opinion column “We Have a Dream: Justice in Education,” Jan. 31, 2020. Without repeating the entire content of that column, let me quickly remind readers of the crisis all students, especially Black and Brown kids are facing in our schools. Specifically, D-11 and D-2 are two of the poorest performing school districts in the entire state of Colorado.

Here are the facts: According to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), these school districts rank 159 and 100 out of 183 districts. The following chart, generated from CDE’s statewide assessments for 2019, shows the percentage of students, third through sixth grade, rated as “Proficient” in English Language Arts and Mathematics as determined by CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success) tests.

This abysmal performance level was measured by CDE well before the pandemic. Now, with school closings, remote teaching, and countless other challenges, who knows how much farther behind our children are going to be?

If these “lack of achievement” levels are not a crisis, if these scores don’t sound the alarm loud enough to wake you up, then someone needs to check your pulse. Every parent, student, taxpayer, businessperson, and elected official should be enraged by this injustice. Perhaps the Attorney General should investigate this situation as the greatest taxpayer/consumer rip-off in history.

Right under our noses too many children, especially children of color, are being channeled into the prison pipeline because of the failure of too many public schools to educate them properly, perpetuating a sophisticated form of slavery. Some might even say this failure is a form of genocide.

School districts should focus on improving education and learning — period. Our kids need to know how to count, but the only counting that seems important to the districts occurs on “count days” when their funding levels are determined. We want our kids to count every day! If School Boards will not, or cannot, ensure and deliver the level of education our children deserve, then parents should demand a refund.

If parents got their money back they could hire tutors, send their children to private school or a better public school, or fund home schooling, neighborhood pods, etc., doing whatever they believe will best educate their children.

The top priority in District 11’s own mission statement is “Increase Student Achievement.” A massive increase in student achievement should be its primary focus, but it’s not. The district’s current focus is on a massive spending plan. Yes, D-11 has spent countless hours and a substantial amount of our money planning to sell us on another massive spending plan. They want to spend a billion more dollars on new buildings and upgrades while actually turning some schools into parks and parking lots.

Before this district gets one more penny, we must see improved results! Failure rates of 60%, 70%, 80% and greater are no longer acceptable! Rewarding failure just encourages more of it.

When my original article was published it received overwhelming responses from the community. But what was the response from D-11 and D-2? Silence! Instead of District leadership responding as if facing a 10-alarm fire, our 911 calls continue to be ignored.

They may be able to ignore these pleadings for now, but the drumbeats are getting louder and more rapid. No longer will this systemic failure be tolerated. It is time to demand justice and educational accountability, doing so with the same vigor we are using to address racial inequality in law enforcement. If it takes more protests to be heard by the powers that be, then so be it. We will loudly, and peacefully, engage.

It is time for action! It is time for the school boards and districts to be accountable.

The Rev. Promise Lee is an activist and the senior pastor of Relevant Word Ministries in Colorado Springs.

The Rev. Promise Lee is an activist and the senior pastor of Relevant Word Ministries in Colorado Springs.

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