San Francisco’s housing shortage, displacement, and affordability crises have long made national news. But now, only two months into 2021, the media spotlight has turned to our schools and our attention-getting school board.
In addition to generating an avalanche of articles, ridicule, and comparisons to “Portlandia,” the school board’s recent actions have sparked a powerful public outcry from parents, students, and non-parents alike. Supervisor Raphael Mandelman may have said it best when he wondered aloud “What’s wrong with these people?”
Something is wrong, and not just with the school board but with how public education decisions get made and who is involved in making them. The school board’s most recent embarrassments have brought these issues to light and shown what happens when not nearly enough citizens take part.
This especially includes urbanists, a community I’ve long been part of. For too long we’ve neglected to include public education as part of our advocacy work alongside housing and transportation. And I believe that’s been a real mistake, as education, transportation, and housing should serve as the three legs of the urbanist stool.
The reason should be evident: The same issues of access, equity, and inclusion that we advocate for in housing and transportation apply to education as well. If we fail to ensure that inclusive, high quality public education is available for every San Francisco student we risk winding up with a two-tiered education system that discriminates against students from lower-income families. And if we fail our students and families, we fail the city as a whole.
That’s why now is the time for urbanist groups like the Housing Action Coalition, YIMBY, SPUR, SF Bike Coalition, Livable City, and others to play an active role in engaging our members to be public education advocates and hold decision makers accountable when they fail to act in our students’ best interests.
Given the loud public outcry and parents’ palpable anger, I’m hopeful there can be a sea change when it comes to engaging new advocates for high quality public education. And by recognizing education as core equity and livability issues, urbanists can help lead the way.