With education reform at the top of West Virginia’s policy making agenda we need to be thinking about what education systems and structures we want to see built as we fight against destructive and harmful education models and proposals. We need to identify what structures are in place that are working, both locally and statewide, as well as recognizing what needs to be changed, strengthened, and supported.
During his 2019 State of the State address in January, Governor Justice announced his big push to implement Communities in Schools Inc. (CIS) programs into K-12 schools around the state. Justice’s implementation plan has been rolling out simultaneously to the legislature’s proposals for ESAs, charter schools, and privatization, all presented under the pernicious guise of “school choice” and “student success.” In this mess of so-called “education reform,” we CANNOT fold and embrace CIS as the inherent good.
The Coalition for Community Schools says that “a community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.” Communities in Schools Inc. is NOT a community school model.
Communities in Schools Inc. IS an enormous national dropout prevention program. CIS IS a highly funded, and branded, incorporated non-profit whose net assets after expenses in 2018 totaled $51,421,073; its largest funders include Abbvie, a large pharmaceutical company, Altria, one of the country’s largest tobacco companies, American Express, AT&T, and Bank of America. CIS serves both public and charter schools, leaving the embrace of charter schools very much on the table alongside CIS’s implementation.
What’s most troubling about the implementation of CIS is the counties that have been chosen to be pilot programs. Alongside Greenbrier County’s already existing program, McDowell, Berkeley, Cabell, Raleigh, Fayette, Wyoming, Lincoln, Calhoun, and Clay Counties have been selected thus far. These counties already have high graduation rates (average of nearly 90%) and low dropout rates (average of 0.9%), with both figures being superior to national averages. Many of these counties have implemented true community school programs that have been highly effective without the assistance (or funding) of CIS. Fayette county is leading the charge in developing CTE programs through their Fayette Institute of Technology, Lincoln County is a leader in emotional health programs, and Clay County is a hub for community school programs.
So, why is CIS being inserted into counties with already existing successful community school programs? What will happen to existing community engagement in public education when an outside coordinator is hired to run a dropout prevention program under the guise of a community school program? Who will stand to profit for CIS taking the credit of already existing programs? As we see it, the corporate interests that CIS represents will profit while the rest of us get pushed out and ignored, leaving us with no control over our public schools. We don’t want Communities in Schools Inc, a national nonprofit corporation invited here by a billionaire, in our schools, we want true community schools—our communities taking power to build effective programs in our schools!