SPEAK Original: An Interview with Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson

SPEAK Original: An Interview with Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson

SPEAK Original: An Interview with Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson

SPEAK: To start with, how would you frame the charter school question?

The discussion that question 2 brings up is being misframed and mischaracterized. It's not "Do you support charter schools?" The question is should we allow 12 additional charters in Massachusetts with no additional funding into the future forever. Currently, Boston gets $215 million in state funding for education. $160 million of that goes to charter school students. $15 million also goes to them for transportation. That leaves $40 million to be split amongst 57,314 BPS students. This conversation shows a lack of leadership and shows what adults do when we aren't willing to look at the real underlying issue. A bipartisan organization at the State House says school funding in Massachusetts is off by $1 billion. That is the real issue. That's for charter as well as district. This bill does nothing to help the 96% of students who are in public schools. Yes, we can get better. But we only get better if we help all students.

The funding gap that we currently have, not counting thisj additional unfunded mandate, leaves us with four high schools that don't have librarians. BPS increased the class size for autistic students by 25% last year. BPS has schools like the Boston Community Leadership Academy that lost its leadership teacher due to lack of funding. In addition, as Democrats we should support teachers being able to do well. 70% of Massachusetts teachers are women. Wal Mart gave $1.8 million to the 'Yes on 2' campaign—I don't want a Wal-Mart model for our public schools. I don't want teachers who have to drive uber or have a second job. I want teachers squarely focused on young people. And I want a state of Massachusetts where we work on the underlying issue, which is the funding gap. And I want charter schools to do what they were created to do, which is to create and be the test kitchen that share—that's in the language of their first legislation—what they've learned with the public schools. Legal Seafood's test kitchen is not trying to put Legal Seafood out of business. It is unacceptable to only help a small group of students and disregard and further harm the most vulnerable students in the state.

SPEAK: How do you think Democrats can fight this kind of austerity at the state level?

Councilor Jackson: Democrats are letting Charlie Baker off the hook. The conversation that we're having is Democrats turning on each other rather than to each other to help the students. This is wrong. Over 100 school committees in Massachusetts have signed onto 'No on 2' because 2/3 of school districts in Massachusetts lose many to charter schools. Many cities and towns like Brookline, Newton and Wellesley actually do Proposition 2 1/2 overrides to get more money because they're short every year. Those people sadly are going to have to sharpen their pens and do that every year if this passes. The real focus needs to be on how we sustainably fund education. In 1999, 32% of our funding came from the state. This year it's 8%. We have not kept up with funding for public education. People on Yes on 2 are putting out fictitious lies that this is going to add more money. This is an unfunded mandate that takes away local control. Charter Schools get their funding from local districts. It hurts my heart when I deal with young people who have been pushed out of charters due to discipline. I met a young man who was suspended 17 times from the Brook Charter School, one time for pink socks and several times for not having a belt on. And take a school like Boston Prep whose 2014 class which started in 6th grade with 120 students: all of their seniors went to four year schools, but by that time there were only 30 of them left. If we're going to speak about public education, we need to speak about public accountability for charter schools. 60% of charter schools do not have a parent or a student on their board. The response from the Mass Charter Association was that it is a conflict of interest for parents to be on the board. The young people in the city charters are predominantly Black and Latino. The boards are 1/3 hedge fund and financial service individuals who do not actually live in the municipality that they're serving on the board. Unacceptable. We don't do that for affluent neighborhoods and rich towns.

SPEAK: Moving away from charter schools, we're all college students here. I myself go to Northeastern University, which might just be the worst corporate citizen in the city. How do you think private universities should improve their impact on the communities they exist in?

Councilor Jackson: To start, we negotiated a very progressive and thoughtful approach to procurement with private universities in the city. Colleges and Universities should be buying locally and from minority and women owned businesses. Northeastern spends 150 million on stuff. They should take a thoughtful approach to where they buy things. Why wouldn't you support local businesses that will hire locally and end up helping with some of the social problems that affect everyone in the city? It is critical that we push colleges and universities to not only elevate students, but neighborhoods and communities that they live in. Over 51% of land mass in the City of Boston is owned by non-profits. They pay what we call PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes)—AKA voluntary taxes. Northeastern, which has the footprint of a Boston University and pays exponentially less, needs to step up in what it pays, what it buys and in educating young people in the City of Boston and giving them the same world class education that its own students are able to afford.

SPEAK: You touched on this already, but how can elected officials support minority and women owned businesses?

Councilor Jackson: We need to look at more progressive legislation. We need to do a disparity study in order to legally justify having an office of women and minority owned business assistance, which allows for us to have goals as a city. It was said that it would be done three years ago and it has not been done. It's critical that allocate the funds. The city also needs to look at itself in the mirror and look at the ways that our city procurement can actually be spent with local, women- and minority-owned businesses.

SPEAK: I can't interview with you without bringing up the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. What do you see as the role of community land trusts in local politics and organizing?

Councilor Jackson: I think city land trusts are the bomb and they should be replicated all over the city of Boston. They are a way to deal with the rising costs of housing in the city and it enables communities and neighbors to have power: they own land that cannot be taken away from them. It is critical that we look at what's been happening at DSNI and not only celebrate it with our rhetoric, but celebrate it by replicating their model all over the city.

SPEAK: Black Lives Matter has done a great job centering the struggles of Black Americans, particularly with regards to criminal justice and mass incarceration, in our political discourse at every level of government. Yet at the same time, cities that are held up by the federal government as successful examples of police reform such as Seattle have not yet seen a substantive change in racist policing. What do you think organizers and folks on the ground can do to overcome some of the political barriers that establishment politics are presenting?

Councilor Jackson: I am impressed, inspired and motivated by the Black Lives Matter movement. I think it's critical that there is a policy agenda that they hold elected officials accountable to. They've recently released some things relative to policy; they need to hold elected officials accountable to this. And I'm going to say something that normally would be a bad word here: they can learn from the Tea Party in a number of ways. The Tea Party ran candidates for everything from President to dog-catcher at every level of government—they won some! They elected some people to congress who fundamentally don't believe in government at all. But there is something to be said about government accountability and people stepping up to challenge the status quo when it comes to those we elect to office. We either are at the table or we're on the table.

Change is going to take time because we need a more diverse police force, we need to change laws so there are special prosecutors brought in anytime there’s a police fatality. We need all police wearing body cameras with all footage stored on a police server that is publicly monitored. But I want to say again that had young people not stepped up and organized, this conversation wouldn't be happening at all right now.


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