New education equity alliance launches in Tennessee

Education equity is the focus of a new Tennessee alliance of organizations and individuals convened by The Education Trust. (Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images)

A new alliance dedicated to education equity in Tennessee launched Monday with more than 40 organizations from across the state.

Declaring “there is no excellence without equity,” the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education pledges to seek solutions for closing gaps in opportunity and achievement for historically underserved students. It will focus on students of color, English learners, immigrants, undocumented youth, rural residents and those who are economically disadvantaged or have disabilities. 

The alliance is organized by The Education Trust, which last year opened a state office in Tennessee and named Gini Pupo-Walker as its first director.

Education Trust President John King said Tennessee needs a sharper focus on education equity with more advocacy coordination amid political divisions and challenges with the coronavirus pandemic and economy.

“Schools have the potential to save and transform lives, but we will need to work together to guarantee that for every student,” said King, a secretary of education under former President Barack Obama.

The agenda includes funding and resource equity, educator diversity, the social and emotional development of students, and the impact of COVID-19 on student learning and well-being.

“It’s really around creating a collective voice for people who work with students and families every day,” said Pupo-Walker of the new collaboration.

The alliance will take on the work and much of the agenda of the previous Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, a statewide network of more than 50 civil rights and advocacy groups helmed by Pupo-Walker and convened by Latino advocacy group Conexión Américas, her former employer. The coalition disbanded a year ago when The Education Trust hired Pupo-Walker to open an office in Nashville.

Many of the former coalition’s partners have joined the new alliance.

Charter members include the Memphis Education Fund, Tennessee Disability Coalition, NAACP state conference, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Knoxville Urban League, Teach for America, and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

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“Anytime like-minded people and organizations can coalesce around a common agenda, that can be powerful,” said Diarese George, executive director of the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance, which has signed on.

The group is seeking individual members as well.

Memphis student Kaleb Sy, who attends T-STEM Academy East High School, said he is excited to have a seat at the table. “I hope that the alliance will be a voice to the voiceless and an ear to the unheard from rural and urban schools in Tennessee,” he said.

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