News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

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East Bay DSA

June 11, 2019

Jumoke Hinton Hodge must resign from the Oakland school board

By Sandy Barnard

Jumoke Hinton Hodge should resign from the Oakland school board immediately. Hinton Hodge has recently come under fire for putting her hands on the throat of Darnisha Wright, an Oakland kindergarten teacher who was on a picket line in February.

As Majority has previously reported, Wright is facing termination now, despite receiving glowing performance reviews and being awarded a prestigious Fulbright teacher scholarship. Jumoke Hinton Hodge should resign in the wake of this horrible scandal.

But Hinton Hodge has been wrong for Oakland schools since her election over a decade ago. She has made a career out of representing the interests of charter schools and their wealthy backers on the school board, and her altercation with Wright is just the latest example of her contempt for Oakland teachers and students

Hinton Hodge has never seen a school closure proposal she wouldn’t vote for. In 2012, she voted to close five elementary schools and consolidate more. In total, the vote displaced an estimated 900 elementary students. This vote led to a three-week occupation of Lakeview Elementary, and the superintendent resigned over the scandal. Earlier this year, Hinton Hodge ignored the pleas of students, teachers, and community members and voted to close Roots International Academy and force kids to relocate to a school over a mile away.

Who are Hodge’s billionaire backers?

Unfortunately, a track record like this is not unusual on the Oakland School Board. Jody London and Gary Yee both voted the same way, in part because the pro-charter group GO Public Schools put all of them on the board to push their agenda. Hinton Hodge, however, has expanded her scope. Not content just to disrupt the lives on Oakland students, she writes blog posts for a national audience on running school districts, with such gems as “I Trust Data More Than I Trust States To Do The Right Thing For Our Schools” (an impassioned defense of more standardized testing) and “We Should Welcome Teach For America, Not Bash Them.” (See our argument about why we should, in fact, bash TFA.)

Jumoke Hinton Hodge is not the first person to erroneously promote charter schools, either on a national level or in Oakland. But she materially benefits from this work. With billionaire privatizers backing her, both directly and through the GO Public Schools PAC, promoting charter schools keeps her in office.

Why do billionaires spend so much money pushing charters and buying school boards? The most important reason is unions. Teachers’ unions are one of the last strongholds of the American labor movement, and when public sector unions win good wages and benefits for workers, workers across society see higher wages and benefits too, cutting into the billioniares’ bottom lines. Additionally, fully funded public education costs billionaires a lot in taxes, while charter schools — usually staffed by lower-paid non-union teachers — are cheap.

GO Public Schools is an astroturf organization that exists to promote charter schools. Funded by billionaires, they use the language of social justice to organize parents and community members into supporting a privatization agenda, and they have supported school board members like Jody London, Gary Yee, James Harris, and Jumoke Hinton Hodge, all of whom repeatedly vote for closing down public schools and instituting charters.

Hinton Hodge has also received direct campaign contributions from the Fournier Institute. Alan Fournier is a long-time investment banker from New Jersey who in 2007 asked the federal government not to bail out people who took out subprime mortgages. Not content to only ruin working-class people’s lives by ensuring that they get foreclosed on and lose their homes, the Fournier Family Foundation has “had a substantial impact in improving educational access by developing and supporting charter schools,” according to a charter advocacy group.

The Fournier Family Foundation has given about $2 million to Teach for America and about $2 million to a group called “Friends of TEAM Charter Schools,” a New Jersey–based charter network whose founder was forced to resign after it was revealed that he used his position as an educator to sexually abuse a student and two teachers. He got away with it for years because the school has received millions from hedge fund managers Julian Robertson and Arthur Rock, as well as billionaires like Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

Hinton Hodge has been bad for Oakland, closing down public schools in favor of charters. But she is also one piece in a national puzzle. There are national networks of hedge fund managers, graduates of the Broad Academy, astroturf organizations, and, yes, school board members, who are all funded by the same billionaires and who are all pushing the same agenda of privatizing our public education. They know that that unionized teachers, fighting for better schools and better wages for themselves and the working class as whole, are a serious threat to their profits. Anyone who Alan Fournier wants in office is an enemy of working people, no matter what school district they work in.

Yes, Jumoke Hinton Hodge should resign after her altercation with a kindergarten teacher. But she should never have been on the school board to begin with.