A group of teachers and education activists initiated CEJ in 1999, and the organization now has a small but expanding base of 300 active members. Founding members were rooted in a variety of organizations, including the Labor/Community Strategy Center; the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Bilingual Education Committee; A Second Opinion, a progressive caucus within the union; and the California Consortium for Critical Educators. CEJ was founded a few months after the majority-white electorate of California passed Proposition 227, which mandated English immersion programs for immigrants who did not speak English and, in the process, crippled bilingual education programs.
"We lost 227, but the fight was not over," explained Kate Beaudet, a founding member and teacher in Watts. "We wanted to develop a long-term, social movement strategy to challenge racism. And, we knew we needed an organization rooted in the tremendous power that parents, teachers, and students have when they join together."
Over several months, the founding core organized a larger group that included parent and student leaders, university professors, and teacher union activists. After a series of strategic planning retreats, CEJ unveiled its political program in the summer of 2000 - aimed at Los Angeles Unified School District Board Members and Governor Davis. The program included:
- End all high-stakes testing, including the Stanford 9 and High School Exit Exam (HSEE);
- Restore and expand bilingual education programs.
- "Caps not cops" - a slogan encompassing the demand to cap class sizes at 20 students in elementary and secondary school, in part by redirecting funds away from policing and discipline measures.
"Our demands drive and define our strategy, tactics, and organizing," said Ramon Martinez, an East Los Angeles teacher. "We create demands that come directly out of real people's experiences and grievances against the system, but that are framed in explicitly anti-racist ways."