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Agreeing on What's Best for Kids

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For much of this young century, we've heard that reformers can't support tax increases, or that unions don't support reform. We've faced false choices between charter schools and district schools. And we've seen our debate about the future of public education devolve into an ideological battle that means nothing to parents struggling to give their kids the education they need for the future they deserve.

At Parent Revolution, we believe in a simple paradigm: that we must make every single decision about our schools as if it would literally impact our own children. If we are going to take this seriously, not as a slogan or a sound bite, but as a serious public policy agenda -- then we need to accept that, as uncontroversial as it sounds, a real kids-first agenda is the most radical agenda in the state of California because it is so far-afield from the way our schools currently operate.

That's where Parent Trigger comes in. Parent Trigger is the first law in California history that gives parents real power over the education of their own children. Parent Trigger has transformed from a law into a movement because the only way to force public education to serve the interests of kids and not adults is to give power to the only people who only care about kids: parents.

Much of our current debate in California has brought into stark relief the differences between parents and defenders of the status quo, like the California Teachers Association. And those differences are stark. Parents need real power, which is why we support Parent Trigger. Parents need real choices in public schools, which is why we support good charter schools. And parents need union contracts that we'd write for our own kids, which is why we oppose the anachronistic policy of "Last-in first-out," which forces districts to lay off teachers without regard to quality or commitment to kids.

However, these tired parameters of debate tend to ignore our many commonalities. Leaders in Sacramento are debating draconian cuts to public education that would devastate our schools, our teachers and our kids. That's why, last week, hundreds of parents, students, and teachers flooded the Capitol, marching hand-in-hand, hell-bent on preventing billions more from being stolen from California public schools and it looks like Gov. Brown might start listening. Parents, teachers and teachers unions are standing up, standing together and speaking with one voice that we are united and will not stand for these cuts.

Of course we live in difficult economic times, and of course we need to cut bloated school bureaucracies. But slashing funding for public education every time we face a budget crisis cannot be our long-term fiscal strategy. Right now, school districts across California are already bracing themselves for shortened school years. Right now, schools are already failing to attract America's best and brightest teachers because of low pay and the complete lack of professionalism with which teachers are treated. And right now, parents are already struggling to provide for our kids in this frightening fiscal environment.

Rather than slashing education budgets, parents should support budget solutions like Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner's legislation to force millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. Millionaires have fared better than anyone else during the Great Recession, especially in the wake of the recent renewal of the Bush tax cuts. Similarly, it is absurd to ask our kids and our teachers to sacrifice while big oil companies continue to rake in record profits. Given that California is the only state in the nation that does not tax oil production, parents should support a common sense oil production tax which would bring in over a billion dollars a year. And if the goal is a real kids-first agenda, supporting Governor Brown's modest tax extension proposal is as much of a no-brainer as repealing Last-in First-out. These are just a few of many potential solutions that could save our kids from a catastrophic fiscal meltdown.

Bottom line is that the broken paradigms of the past will not solve today's problems, because they have created today's problems. Pretending that just reform or just funding will solve the complex problems of this moment will lead us right back to the status quo of stalemate and stagnation. Parents care about one thing: our kids. Whether we are fighting for more funding or for more adult accountability, only a real kids-first agenda will solve the problems of this moment, and will transform public education for the 21st Century.