By Amanda Litvinov
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Some would have you believe that party platforms are irrelevant—just non-binding message documents that everyone forgets about shortly after the last of the confetti drops at the party’s national convention.
Carolyn “CiCi” Culpepper disagrees. “Of course it is important to speak out and agree on these issues,” she said. “And I’m speaking as a mother, as a soldier, and as the wife of a police officer.”
Culpepper retired from Alabama’s Department of Education, where she helped coordinate services for special needs children and adults. She is also a retired veteran who served 33 years between active duty and reserves.
As a member of the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee, Culpepper traveled to Orlando July 8-9, to vote on amendments and advise the Platform Drafting Committee.
Over the course of the meeting as amendments were presented, Culpepper said, “You think about your community, your city, your schools. You see how the pieces fit together and why this matters for the next generation.”
One passed amendment spells out Democrats’ support not just for teachers, but “all the professionals who work in public schools to support students’ education”–a small but significant change long-awaited by public school advocates.
Here are other notable education-related changes that made it into the draft platform:
- Arguably the most striking change states the Democratic Party’s opposition to high-stakes tests “that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing; the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools; and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers.”
- Committee members voted to add context to the platform’s commitment to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, “by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos, Native Americans and Alaska Natives, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT. We will support the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment.”
- The Platform Committee passed amendments that better define the Party’s support for public charter schools that reflect their communities, “and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools.” The draft also calls for public charters to share their best practices, in keeping with the original intent of charter schools, while opposing “for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources.”
- The draft platform now makes an explicit commitment to “debt-free college,” and outlines the principles that would make that a reality.
“I’m proud of how progressive this platform really is,” said North Dakota State Representative Ben Hanson, who also served on the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee. As a public employee, Hanson chose to join North Dakota United, a merged public employee union that includes the state’s NEA affiliate.
He was pleased to see the party’s platform incorporate policies that allow hard-working people to earn a stable living, afford higher education, and expect a safe and secure retirement.
It resonates with Hanson, whose state recently cut programs that serve seniors and after-care programs for students with special needs as a result of the state’s $300 million budget shortfall. Schools’ operating budgets have so far been protected from 4-percent across-the-board cuts only because of the state’s education sustainability fund.
“I’m proud to say that so far we’ve sustained a five-day school week in our rural areas; not all states have managed to do that,” said Hanson, who will soon be back in his state capitol for a special session to address the budget crisis.
“No child’s education should be compromised because of poor systems that don’t work,”