The Committee Hosts Screening of Documentary Exploring Real Costs of Privatizing America's Public Schools

The District of Columbia, like many urban centers across the Nation, has faced for decades a crisis in educational equity. Low-performing public schools in disinvested neighborhoods and a racial achievement gap have led to repeated waves of reform. Over the last decade, the District has experimented with the privatization of large parts of the school system through charter schools.This experiment has led to opportunity for some but exacerbated existing deficiencies for others, primarily low-income students of color. The experience in the District is not dissimilar from the outcome in other cities that have tried to reform through privatization.

On November 16, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities, and Teaching for Change hosted a free screening of the documentary Backpack Full of Cash. Narrated by Matt Damon, this feature-length documentary explores the growing privatization of public schools and the resulting impact on America’s most vulnerable children.

Filmed in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Nashville and Union City (NJ), Backpack takes viewers through the tumultuous 2013-14 school year, exposing the realities of education reform policies such as vouchers and charter schools, and illustrating their effects on traditional public school systems.backpaks full of cash

Following the film screening, Jonathan Smith moderated a spirited discussion among Leslie Fenwick, Dean Emeritus and Professor at Howard University School of Education; Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, and former Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools; and Stanley Sanger, former Superintendent of Union City Schools, NJ. The panel also responded to several questions from the audience.

DC Councilmember David Grosso, Chairman of the Education Committee, attended, as well as members of the DC State Board of Education, representatives of the DC Ward Education Councils, other DC education advocates, parents, DCPS administrators and teachers, and business leaders. Some employees of the Public Charter School Board and Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a charter advocacy organization, also attended.

For more information on Backpack, produced by Sarah Mondale and Vera Aranow, see Thank you as well to the 21st Century Fund for Schools for its important research.

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