Recently the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an opinion piece by Eric Scroggins of Opportunity Trust. In his commentary Scroggins invokes the words “white supremacy” in regard to public education in the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS).
Scroggins, whose organization is (PARTIALLY?) funded by millionaires, asks: “. . . will we continue with the status quo — a system based in white supremacy, designed to be impervious to change and operating almost identically to how it did 100 years ago — and hope for a different outcome?”
Scroggins dares to mention white supremacy when he himself is a white male who has benefitted from the same system he criticizes. His private organization’s only record is accumulating money from wealthy people and organizations - and now from taxpayers. He just used the system to get $2 million in state funds directed to Opportunity Trust, which seeks to siphon tax dollars from the public school system and the students he claims to want to help.
If $2 million slated for Scroggins and company gives you pause, it should. One must ask, “why wasn’t the Opportunity Trust named in the state budget? Why such secrecy? One must question the lack of transparency in the line item in the legislation. Is his priority students or profits?
An April Washington Post article details how privatizers like Opportunity Trust operate in secrecy with the intent to use vouchers and charter school expansion legislation as an incremental tool in a long-term goal of dismantling public schools. In a nutshell, they intend to kill public schools slowly – death by a thousand cuts.
The Post-Dispatch editorial board questioned the legislature’s move, noting Opportunity Trust brought in more than $6 million last year. The organization had enough resources to have 10 lobbyists at the state capitol doing their bidding this past session. No wonder they were successful!
Scroggins’ version of “equity” increasingly looks like a future battle between charter schools and SLPS over a smaller and smaller pot of money.
St. Louis Public Schools have regained full accreditation, expanded Pre-K and carefully negotiated a mandated turn to virtual education, then hybrid and now in-person instruction because of the pandemic.
Of course, our children include low-income families in need of community support. However, without fully funding SLPS, and including social workers and counseling for social emotional needs, a nurse in every school, librarians, after-school activities, kids who have the least would continue to go without.
Opportunity Trust’s record merely includes the accumulation of money, but little to speak of in terms of actual results.
Although Scroggins, along with WePower (an organization partially funded by Opportunity Trust), continue to cite their interpretations of their own internal and other polls, we should all be leery of schemes designed to benefit their personal interests. Their notion of defunding SLPS, and how that would magically improve the district, is bogus.
Our city is at a crossroads. The true promise of public education is to create the same opportunities for free, quality instruction everyone. This is the opposite of white supremacy. The American Federation of Teachers thinks it is time to increase our investments in Pre-K, fund and strengthen full-service, community schools and commit to repurpose two SLPS schools as unionized vocational/technical trade schools to align opportunity with the jobs of the future.
We support real dialogue on improving outcomes for SLPS and reject Mr. Scroggins' racially charged divisiveness.
Ray Cummings is president of American Federation of Teachers St. Louis, Local 420, a product of St. Louis Public Schools and a 30-year SLPS master teacher.