Religious non-profit seeks 2,000 ‘potential voters’ to push their education agenda

Jersey City Together, a non-profit organization that describes itself as a multi-faith coalition, is seeking to organize “Jersey City residents (& potential voters)” to push their vague education agenda – which is primarily focused on massive property tax increases at this time.

“This is not about political endorsement,” Brigid D’Souza, publisher of the website, tweeted. “But we do aim/plan to help community understand education issues [including] funding in more depth. We all have a stake in quality public education in #JerseyCity & our votes determine who sits on [the Jersey City Board of Education].”

D’Souza’s tweet was a follow-up to another tweet by Jersey City Together (JCT), a 501(c)(3) non-profit, faith-based organization, of which the education activist is a “Strategy Team” member. The original JCT tweet was a call to action with a goal “to sign up 2,000 Jersey City residents (& potential voters) to our push around addressing the schools funding crisis & issues in our schools.”

Website links connected to the tweet direct people to a Google Doc form seeking voter registration information, and specifically asks “if you are a parent of a student or a member of a religious congregation or non-profit, what school do your children go to AND/OR what institution are you a member of?”

The most interesting question on the form was at the bottom, which asked if people agreed with their mission statement, and could only be answered “YES!” or “no”:

DO YOU AGREE WITH JERSEY CITY TOGETHER… that we need local leadership from our public servants & elected officials to address the current, schools funding crisis & to create a Jersey City Public Schools System we can all be proud of! This means: (1) providing courageous leadership around funding, including providing more sustainable, local funding for our schools (as recommended by law); (2) Ensuring working water fountains for all students & addressing the poor physical conditions of our schools; (3) Investing in the social & emotional health of our students via access to community schools, social workers, & crisis intervention teachers; (4) Improving curriculum & special education services for all children.

Though much of that statement is unobjectionable, it would be great if education policy & politics were so simple.

As a case in point, D’Souza is certainly among those leading the charge on education for JCT, especially on funding, but she’s not limited to talking just numbers. For example, in the past, separate of JCT, she’s expressed support for former Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles & Lyles’ school board allies on controversial issues – like the Source4Teachers contract. Going back to 2014, D’Souza endorsed JCBOE candidates that were pro-Lyles (since removed from the website).

Continuing on that point, what exactly does “improving curriculum & special education services for all children” mean? D’Souza tweeted that JCT will “hold elected/those seeking election to account re: issues, funding, leadership,” which sounds like a political warning you’d hear from a Hudson County politician, but there’s no clear plan regarding “improving curriculum & special education services for all children.”

Does “improving curriculum” mean continuing the type of policies supported by education reformers and groups like Better Education for Kids New Jersey (B4KNJ)? The type of policies teachers union activists have been so vocal about during Lyles’ tenure – often described as corporatization/privatization of public schools and pro-charter school.

Ironically, after tweeting about JCT’s organization efforts, D’Souza went on to tweet out a screenshot citing a report – AN ADVOCATE’S GUIDE TO TRANSFORMING SPECIAL EDUCATION CREATING SCHOOLS WHERE ALL STUDENTS CAN THRIVE – published by the website for Innovate Public Schools. She went on to call the website a “resource” and shared its link and Twitter account.

Now, this may be completely coincidental, but according to San Jose Inside, Innovate Public Schools (IPS) CEO Matt Hammer is paid $225,000 a year to lobby for charters. According to his bio, prior to launching IPS, Hammer was the Executive Director of People Acting In Community Together (PACT) from 2000-2012. PACT, like JCT, is a multi-faith, grassroots organization.

Like I said, it may be completely coincidental, but D’Souza promoting a pro-charter organization founded by a former executive director of a multi-faith, grassroots organization is interesting at the very least.

For now, it seems the focus of JCT and D’Souza is on massive property tax hikes to fund the JCBOE’s budget shortfall. They offer some sound points on the issue, but it should be interesting how they “hold elected/those seeking election to account” who may not agree with their specific proposals.

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