• By Thomas Marshall III, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • June – July  2023 • Thomas Marshall

Across the U.S. South, policymakers are creating roadblocks to culturally sustaining education. Students, families, educators and activists are always at the center of any movement building, and this is no different in the Georgia education space.

For the Georgia General Assembly session in early 2023, we drew upon last year’s work and expanded our coalition, Georgia Coalition for Education Justice, the coalition founded by IDRA in 2022. This collective of students, educators, parents and other advocates is dedicated to advancing education justice for all children across the state.

This coalition originally was named: Georgia Coalition Against Classroom Censorship. We changed it this year to more intentionally reflect the affirmative nature of the coalition’s values. The coalition focuses on school safety and discipline, culturally sustaining practices, opportunities for multilingual learners, and stopping public funds for private school vouchers.

During the recent session, coalition members organized and successfully fought back against voucher proposals and participated in a day of action to fairly fund Georgia schools. We helped block Georgia’s “Don’t Say Gay” censorship bill and held news conferences to push for bills critical to our policy priority areas. And, we continued to share our concerns with lawmakers about why the state needs to update funding weights for educating specific student groups (IDRA, 2023).

Members of the Georgia Coalition for Education Justice hold news conference in the Georgia State Capitol.

Culturally Sustaining Teach-Ins

We knew it would be crucial to engage with communities that had little experience in the policymaking process. We worked to inform people about the process and equip them with the knowledge and skills to sustain their advocacy. Everyone brings their own special, unique talents to this work, and helping them find places where they can thrive as advocates is a valuable part of how we operated.

Throughout a politically turbulent session, there were bright spots. The coalition was a resource on teaching about race, ethnicity and culture through ethnic studies. IDRA Education Policy Fellows, Jonathan Peraza Campos, M.S., and Ruth Youn, each held training sessions on policies related to Central American studies, Asian American studies, and other curricula that is being left out of classrooms.

These activities culminated with a documentary screening and teach-in where we screened Precious Knowledge, a film recounting the struggle for liberated ethnic studies education in Arizona. This movie served as a framework for an engaging conversation with students, families and educators who want to advocate for schools where every child feels welcome.

Fighting Erasure of DEI in Georgia Educator Standards

After the Georgia General Assembly adjourned in March, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission proposed removing all language around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) from teacher preparation standards. The commission is the governing body that determines what future teachers in Georgia will learn and the standards they are required to teach.

We condemned these changes, submitted letters and organized community members to advocate for equity in the classroom. IDRA and others testified against the proposed changes that will exacerbate recruitment and retention challenges facing the state, threaten access to federal funding, and hinder current and future teachers’ ability to effectively instruct Georgia’s diverse student populations (Arciaga, 2023; Peraza Campos, 2023). Ultimately, the commission voted to remove the DEI language in teacher preparation standards.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Moving forward, the Georgia Education Justice Coalition will continue to work toward a just education system in Georgia, with a focus on community engagement. We will continue to hold space for our members and look forward to organizing with communities for more a equitable, just Georgia where every child is valued. Join IDRA’s Southern Education Equity Network to connect with advocates accross the U.S. South (https://idraseen.org).

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Arciaga, M. (July 13, 2023). family: Protect Crucial DEI in Educator Preparation to Ensure Georgia Classrooms Are Safe and Inclusive for All Students – IDRA Testimony Submitted to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

IDRA. (March 20, 2023). Students Deserve to Attend Fully-Funded Public Schools that Affirm and Sustain All Aspects of their Identity – IDRA Testimony Against SB 233, Submitted to the Georgia House Education Committee.

Peraza Campos, J. (June 7, 2023). IDRA Testimony Against the Removal of DEI Standards from Teacher Certification Standards – Submitted to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

Youn, R. (March 1, 2023). Senate Bill 88 Discriminates Against LGBTQ+ Students, who Deserve Supportive Schools that Affirm their Identity – IDRA Testimony Submitted to the Georgia Senate Education and Youth Committee.

Thomas Marshall III, M.Ed., is IDRA’s policy communications strategist. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at thomas.marshall@idra.org.

[©2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2023 edition of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]