RS: Can you describe the joint effort recently launched by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) to address inequities in education?
Prentiss: Our collaboration marks a historic moment in the struggle to improve the quality of education our children receive and the quality of education that all children in poverty receive. In the past several years, both organizations completed policy studies to document and analyze achievement gaps. We made similar findings about what is needed to close achievement gaps, such as increasing the number of high quality teachers in underserved schools and improving the classroom experience for students. As we talked, it became clear that the educational challenges, opportunities and outcomes for Latino and African-American children are closely linked and that we should work together.
RS: What does that work entail?
Prentiss: We're undertaking collaborative efforts in six states (Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Texas) to advance solutions such as ensuring students have teachers who are culturally competent and providing extra funding for intervention programs, including after-school, in-school, summer school, and Saturday school programs, to bring students up to grade level.
We feel it's important to send a message to the educational and political community that African-American and Latino legislators are going to undertake the work necessary to close achievement gaps rather than bemoaning them. We believe we need a new Civil Rights Movement that makes educational equality its central focus. In Ohio, our Close the Gap Campaign has made it a priority to mobilize parents, students, and community organizations. Without a movement capable of increasing public awareness and pressuring education institutions at all levels, we won't make any real progress. We will also try to work with legislators who represent communities with disproportionate concentrations of poor white children. We need to work with other legislators who make addressing the needs of poor children and ending poverty a top priority.