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Monday, December 2, 2013

Giving Tuesday - From: Laura "The Intern" Weiner

Laura "The Intern" Weiner
I don’t usually get post on the blog or send out emails, but since my internship is about to come to an end, I want to ask you to consider giving to Education Voters of PA this Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is the kick-off day for charitable contributions for the holiday season, and I hope that education is at the top of your list.

As a student myself, I took an internship with Education Voters of PA because I believe that education is the key to success for all children. That’s why I made education a priority issue in my life, and why I want to be sure that Education Voters of PA can make education the number one priority for our elected leaders.

Will you help us meet our goal of adding 250 new donors before Giving Tuesday to make sure funding education is top priority in PA?

Because of you - public involvement in education has grown and together we have been involved in the critical debates about policy in Pennsylvania: the campaign for a school funding formula; adequate investments and special education funding; early education opportunities; charter reform that makes sense for all students; opposing vouchers; strengthening and supporting principal leadership and teacher development.

Now, the debate about how to create a funding formula that truly works for all of Pennsylvania students is just getting started.  We want to make sure that the necessary funding for education is central to any policy and election campaigns in the coming year.

Join us this year for Giving Tuesday and put education at the top of your list.

Thanks for your support,

Laura Weiner
Education Voters of PA

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SB 1085 creates a private authorizer system and more concerns....

SB 1085 (charter school legislation) creates a private authorizer system and allows vendors to set up shop in communities and send them a bill for services without their consent.

Charters schools, operating as authentically public entities can play a good role in the public education arena, but they must function as public institutions - where communities have a say and the schools are set up by the community and accountable to the community. 

Furthermore, it is certainly true that charter policy needs to be revised.  We need to fix the broken funding system, adopt a fair state formula and allocate the appropriate resources to responsibly provide a publicly accessible opportunity to learn to all of Pennsylvania's students. Charter schools are part of the current means of delivering public education and we should improve policy and our funding system to account for them. Our current system is poorly done, and there are a number of ways it could stand to be improved.  But SB 1085 is not the legislation that will do it.

SB 1085 has several key provisions that we are extremely concerned about which will make some very big changes to charter school policy, changes that do not improve conditions in Pennsylvania. There are a number of concerns, and I invite you to read a summary of concerns here, or read the Education Law Center analysis here. 

But the short version is this:

This bill, as written, adopts a private authorizer system. It is being called a "state authorizer" system (which is also very problematic and we oppose) but that is a misnomer.  Higher education institutions would be able to decide to approve a charter school and communities would still be responsible for paying for them - so taxpayers would have all of the responsibility and none of the say. We are very concerned about any entity not accountable to the public having this power.  Communities and elected school boards would not have any say about the role of charter schools.  Even if the university is local, their boards are obligated - first, foremost and by law - to their own institution.  Furthermore, as we understand it, even a higher education institution with no role or ties to a community that engages in the authorizer process would be able to approve a charter school in another part of the state.  This would be extreme policy. 

Enrollment caps would be gone.  Again - communities would not have any say over the role that charters play in their community.  Again, this is extreme.  Communities have a responsibility and the prerogative to make determinations about their financial obligations and the manner of delivering services.  

There are other concerns, but these two deserve to be especially highlighted. 

We invite your comments about your concerns about this legislation and how to improve it, and your concerns about and ideas for actually improving charter school policy in PA. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Urgent: New Charter Bill Has Serious Issues – take action! 

The PA Senate is considering a very problematic new charter school bill, SB 1085 under the guise of “reform” and you know what we say – calling it reform doesn’t make it better policy!  Our biggest concern is a proposal to create a statewide authorizer, which would allow designated entities to authorize charter schools, which takes away the power from communities to make local decisions.  It gives the power to approve charter schools to high-education institutions – but local tax-payers would still foot the bill! The legislation also removes enrollment caps, which means communities lost more control over how these institutions function within their community and over how public education is delivered – while still being responsible for the cost.  You can read more here. 

Please take action and contact your Senator and let them know that SB 1085 is not a good idea for Pennsylvania schools.
Click here to email your Senator. 

Update: Special Education Commission

As you may remember, the Pennsylvania Special Education Commission is holding a series of hearings to develop an equitable formula for funding special education in schools across the commonwealth.  On September 26 Education Voters of PA gave testimony on the best way to approach a funding formula that creates equity and fosters the highest quality education opportunities for special needs students.

First, the testimony pointed out that all education funding formula discussions must consider the actual cost of educating a student. Flat funding for special education is an untenable condition for children. As we get better at recognizing the individual needs of children and developing the methodologies and practices to meet those needs, we must also improve our delivery of services, including equipping schools with the capacity to provide them. And as with regular funding, there should be weights for known cost factors, such as poverty and English Language Learning services.

Education Voters of PA encourages the Commission to consider the precedent-setting aspects of their recommendations. Pennsylvania must to develop methods that focus on using data and updating our understanding of costs that will be looked to as a model for basic education and that stop ignoring the impact of poverty in the educational needs of children. The methodology for funding special education must be a building block for a larger framework for funding public education – which is to say that when you start building a house – you may decide to build one section first – but you do it with the whole design of the house in mind. It must all fit together.

The legislature still isn’t working on a funding formula! 

On September 23rd, Education Voters of Pennsylvania, with Keystone State Education Coalition and Education Matters, held a press conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg to call on the legislature to move forward on a funding formula and adequately fund the cost of educating Pennsylvania’s students. As legislators returned to session, they were greeted by 70 Pennsylvanians representing 40 districts across the state. A number of legislators from various parts of the Commonwealth joined parents, teachers, and taxpayers to express a common goal: making education a priority and adopting a funding formula. The press conference also highlighted 14,000 petition signatures (currently up to 18,000 signatures!) from over 250 school districts asked the legislature to support a better way of funding public education and the adoption of a funding formula to equitably distribute those funds. 

The conference was covered statewide, in 10 news articles from across Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Bucks County, Chambersburg, Beaver County, and Easton, and including the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer, an op-ed, and an editorial. Our opinion piece about state funding was published in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, followed the next day by an editorial that our “diagnosis of the problem is 100% accurate.”   We will continue to move forward to education legislators, civic and business leaders and people across Pennsylvania about the necessity and benefit of adopting asensible funding formula that meets the needs of children and  provides economic stability and transparency for communities. 

We’ll let you know how they are doing in Harrisburg to get Pennsylvania on the right track.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for all of your support,

Susan Gobreski
Executive Director
Education Voters of PA

Monday, May 13, 2013

Are you taking action to speak up for public education in Philadelphia?  Kristen Poole talks about some of the efforts going on around the city (originally published on The Notebook), and we'd like to people to add what they are doing by commenting.  Please share activities and events to help create a Big List of what parents are doing to speak up.

-Susan Gobreski

Parents are mobilizing, the way they know how

by thenotebook on May 10 2013 Posted in Commentary
by Kristen Poole
Hundreds of students marched to City Hall yesterday demanding that the city help with the School District's dire budget shortfall. It was an admirable, even inspiring moment of collective civic action. The students, who came from many different schools, organized a march in the ways expected from young people today: over social media, through text messaging, and by word of mouth.
The demonstration was both highly visible and audible. It could be tracked with news helicopters in the air and documented by iPhones on the ground.
Lately, there has been a surge of activity more difficult to see and hear. I'm referring to the activity of hundreds of parents fighting for the schools. Those of us with work to do, dinner to cook, and kids to car-pool haven’t been staging large Occupy Wall Street-type protests. But don’t mistake our lack of chanting on Broad Street for silence.
Ask members of City Council whether they think parents have been quiet. Over the last two weeks, parents have been mobilizing. There have been, for instance, extensive campaigns to write and call Council representatives. When I asked the staffer of one council member whether there had been many calls, he answered, “millions.” That might have been an overstatement, but the larger point is true: Parents are organized, and we are marching in our own special way.
On April 29, parents from Meredith and other Center City schools walked to City Hall for Superintendent William Hite’s budget presentation to City Council. On May 7, Independence Charter School had a “Day of Action”: 87 families and staff members made 300 calls to 44 city and state politicians, including Gov. Corbett. On May 11, a coalition of parents from GAMP, Penn Alexander, and CAPA will hold a petition drive at the Spruce Hill Community Association’s annual May Fair. On May 20, there will be a rally at Roxborough High School to protest the budget cuts.
Here are some more examples:
  • The Greenfield Home and School Association has organized an ongoing calling campaign targeting three Council members per day.
  • The Greater Center City Schools Coalition has a similar campaign, including calls to the mayor’s office.
  • Parents, teachers, and students at Shawmont, Cook-Wissahickon, and Dobson elementary schools have mounted petition drives, organized days of phone calls to Council members, and are planning lobbying visits.
  • Masterman parents, already writing and calling, have been tweeting.
  • GAMP's families have sent at least 1,580 letters to Council members.
  • Penn Alexander has been promoting petitions, one of which currently has 3,000 signatures.
And so on.
Parents are organizing in the ways that we would expect from middle-aged people today: over e-mail, through text messaging, and by telephone. Yes, even on Facebook.
The parents’ network consists of overlapping networks -- the people we know from kids’ schools and activities, from around the neighborhood, from work, from religious communities. When I was growing up in the suburbs in the '70s and '80s, these networks tended to be one and the same: Where you lived determined where you went to school, which determined what activities you took part in. There was one set of parents, not a Venn diagram full of them.
This is not what happens in Philadelphia today. If there are five kids on a block, they seem to go to five different schools. Even within a single family, three kids might attend three different schools. Neighborhoods are tight, but this is in spite of, not because of, common schools. The children’s activities can take you all over the city. The social networks multiply and intersect.
It is this extensive network that enables the loose but effective coordination of the parent protest. It means that a letter-signing drive at the Fairmount Arts Crawl can be conducted by neighborhood kids who are in four different schools. It means that one Home and School Association meeting has parents from different neighborhoods. It means that when the chair of City Council’s Education Committee says on a Thursday night that she is refusing to endorse additional funding for schools, by Saturday afternoon, dozens, even hundreds of smartphone-wielding parents on the sidelines at kids’ baseball games are talking about it.
The nature of the parents' network speaks to one reason why we need strong public schools in Philadelphia. Schools are part of what holds the social network of this city together. Take away the families with children in public schools, and the network frays. That’s why, in our own way, parents are calling.
Kristen Poole teaches at the University of Delaware, but prefers to live in Philly.  A resident of Fairmount, she and her husband have a child in a public school (GAMP) and another in parochial school.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Time for Fair and Meaningful Ed Funding Reform - March 2013 ACTION ALERT

State budget negotiations are heating up and state legislators need to hear from us!  Since you’ve been following the issues, you know where we are: nearly $1 billion in cuts to education (in each of the last 2 years), increased class sizes, programs and positions have been cut.

Pennsylvania’s way of funding schools is badly flawed, causing and compounding problems and creating unfairness to children, communities and taxpayers.  Quite simply, it is inadequate and unfair.  Pennsylvania must adopt and implement a schedule to provide adequate financial support and allocate that funding through formulas.

Tell your representatives in Harrisburg that it is time to fix this.  We can’t go on kicking the can down the road - our students can’t wait any longer.

It is time for the legislature to renew its work on the permanent adoption of a sensible approach to funding our public schools: one which takes academic expectations, the costs of programs and services, the individual learning needs of students, and community financial health into account.  A funding formula must be predictable, accurate (use updated data) and provide accountability and transparency mechanisms; it must address issues of equity and the fact that Pennsylvania has a variety of communities in both size and type. 

For the 2013-14 budget year, we are calling on the state legislature to:

- Reinstate $270 million in funding to K-12 education in this year’s budget (and for the next 2 years - to restore the nearly $1 billion in state funding level cuts over a three year timetable).

- Put in place funding formulas that have a strategy for allocating dollars, working toward a permanent, rational funding formula. Formulas must account for the number of students, include “weights” for the additional costs for educating students with special needs (including students in poverty, gifted students and English language learners), and provide sustainable and predictable funding for districts.

- Begin to address formula and funding mechanism flaws in the way that charter schools are funded (a good formula will set rates appropriately and not pit groups of children against each other);

- They must also provide cost of living increases for special education (which has been flat funded for 6 straight years) and career-technical education;

- Develop a comprehensive plan to guarantee that the students in financially distressed districts have the resources necessary to meet the state’s academic standards.

Today we are asking you to do 3 quick things:

1.  CLICK HERE to email your legislators today and ask them to support these measures.

2.  Mark your calendar for the next Call to Action Day on Wednesday April 10th - where thousands of
Pennsylvanians will take 10 minutes to call their State Senators and House members.

3.  Identify just 2 other people (or more) that you can ask to join you in making a call - another parent from school, a cousin who has kids, your parents or neighbors who know how important schools are to communities.  CLICK HERE to forward this email or download a flyer HERE.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Response to Governor Corbett's Budget Address

Statement from Executive Director Susan Gobreski:

Over the past two years, Gov. Corbett has led the effort to cut nearly $2 billion in investments in the education of our children, causing program cuts, increases in class sizes and reductions in services like tutoring, library access and more. Along with the loss of dollars, under this administration we have lost significant ground on fixing a broken system for how schools are funded.  Nearly all of the progress that was made to fix that has been lost.  There are still terrible disparities from one community to the next and a ridiculous over-reliance on property taxes.

Today, Governor Corbett proposed  a token increase for basic education, not surprising given his low polling numbers, strong public support for public education and how much public frustration there has been over the nearly $2 billion in cuts he has put forth in his first two years.  Unfortunately, he proposes to restore a mere 5% of what he has cut.  This $90 million does not begin to address the lost programs and lost opportunities our children are experiencing, nor the crisis facing our schools and communities if we continue to systematically under-invest in education and put the primary responsibility for funding schools on property taxes.   And it pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions in corporate tax breaks he wants to see implemented over the next few years. He didn’t see fit to mention those.

The increased support for early education is a bright spot; he had promised to make this a priority when he campaigned for Governor, so it is good to finally see some evidence of action on those promises. 

But overall, I am astonished at how short-sighted this is.  Pennsylvania needs good schools in every community and there is nothing in this budget that suggests there is any long view. There is no commitment to create a sensible, fair way to allocate funding, or make appropriate investments or provide communities relief from having the buck passed to them.  The main thrust of his education plan is about selling liquor stores, a gimmick.  I think people are going to be very unhappy when they start to understand the details. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

What will Gov. Corbett propose for schools in 2013?

Tomorrow, the debate over the priorities of our state budget will begin in earnest with the release of Governor Corbett’s budget proposal. Public education is going to be a very hot topic this year.  Each year, the Governor’s budget proposal sets up the conversation that will continue as negotiations move forward through the spring.  We will be following up after the Governor’s address with more information about the implications for schools and potential impacts on students – so we can all band together to speak up for the Pennsylvania we want to live in! 

- Gov. Corbett has led the effort to cut nearly $2 billion in investments over two years in the education of our children, causing program cuts, increases in class sizes and reductions in services like tutoring, library access and more!

- Along with the loss of dollars, we have lost significant ground on fixing a broken system for how schools are funded.  Nearly all of the progress that was made to try to fix it has been lost.  There are still terrible disparities from one community to the next and an over-reliance on property taxes.

- It looks like Gov. Corbett is feeling the heat – early reports suggest he is going to propose something to restore a portion of the funding – which he himself has cut -- because there has been a lot of voter anger for how extreme the cuts have been. BUT – if you take money from someone you are no hero for giving some of it back.

- We’ll be watching to make sure that restoring funding and making investments in education are not conditioned on any political deal!  Pennsylvania’s children did not make the risky decision to suspend pension payments and their future shouldn’t be dependent on how we manage our liquor stores.  Paying the state obligation for pensions has nothing to do with whether or not we support high quality education.  

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be kicking off our spring campaign asking the legislature to properly support schools and permanently adopt a sensible approach to funding our schools: one that looks at what it costs to meet today’s learning standards; one that uses a fiscally responsible formula-based approach to stop the ridiculous over-reliance on property taxes and one that meets our Constitutional mandate to adequately support our schools.

Each of us has a vital role to play this year in helping make sure that we get public education back on track, and we need to be ready to rise to the occasion!  Thank you so much for your continued involvement in support of good public education and a strong year of working together for an opportunity to learn for every child and for good schools in every community. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Below is an excellent blog post from the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign:

5 Ways Michelle Rhee’s Report Puts Students Last

Posted on: Wednesday January 9th, 2013
On Monday, the pro-privatization education group StudentsFirst, led by former D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, released a State Policy Report Card, ranking states and giving each a letter grade based on their implementation of a slew of education reform policies. Rather than focus on issues facing students and families, particularly those affected by unequal access to school resources, the policy benchmarks in the new report reveal StudentsFirst’s obsession with charter schools and de-professionalizing the teaching profession. The report pushes policies that are either untested or disproven — but happen to be welcome in the halls of right-wing think tanks and politicians.

States are given a clear choice in this report, and for that at least we can thank its authors: either you care about students, or about StudentsFirst. There’s little room for both. Thankfully, many educators and policymakers across the country recognize this. That’s why Richard Zeiger, California’s chief deputy superintendent, called his state’s F grade “a badge of honor.”
Here’s a list of 5 reasons why this State Report Card is a veritable wish list for privatization advocates and a recipe for failure for everyone else:


1. Ironically, It Ignores The Needs of Students

Missing from this report card is any evaluation based on multiple success measures, including student graduation rates, a college ready curriculum, access to art and music classes, or learning benchmarks that will prepare students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their community. All that is presented is a simple ideological litmus test: do states adhere to StudentsFirst’s preferred policies, regardless of their effects?

Let’s take a look at the rankings. Comparing StudentsFirst’s list to The Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Index, which is our synthesis of numerous indicators of student achievement, is revealing. Of their top ten states, eight of them fall in the bottom half of the OTL Index. It’s even more startling when you look at national achievement measures like NAEP scores, which are some of the best ways to compare states to each other. Every single state in StudentsFirst’s top ten is in the bottom half of NAEP states for eighth grade reading, and only one manages to break into the top half for eighth grade math (Indiana, ranked 23rd).

There is also little correlation between StudentsFirst’s rankings and the graduation gap between Black and White students — a key indicator of whether a state’s policies promote equity or erode it. For example, while StudentsFirst ranks the District of Columbia #4, the Schott Foundation found that D.C. has the worst graduation gap in the nation (


2. It Opposes Personalized and Student-Centered Learning

Citing a single Brookings Institution literature review, the StudentsFirst report argues that reducing the number of children in each classroom is both only marginally effective and a poor use of education funds. That particular Brookings review has been roundly criticized for its methodology and the logic of its policy prescriptions. As the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado put it:
“In the end, Class Size: What Research Says and What It Means for State Policy fails to make the case that increasing class sizes is either relatively harmless or cost-effective. It is not a report that state policy makers can trust as a valid guide to policymaking.”

Research has consistently found that the teacher-to-student ratio is an important variable in ensuring that all students have an opportunity to learn. And for a report that wants to empower parents, it’s curious that they would reject small class size: it’s something that parents consistently clamor for.


3. It Argues That We Don’t Have Enough Quality Teachers… While Advocating That We Lower the Bar for Teacher Preparation

The official line for Alternative Certification (alt cert) proponents goes something like this: existing teacher certification programs are inadequate or aren’t producing enough teachers, so there should be multiple ways for people to become teachers, particularly those with subject matter expertise.
In practice, alt cert has meant that countless individuals, often with very little training in how to teach (as little as a few weeks for those in Teach For America, for example), can become teachers and take charge of a classroom full of kids. They are also twice as likely to teach in a classroom of students of color.  Not surprisingly, the StudentsFirst report is in full support of weakening requirements for those entering the classroom. 

If you jump over to the report’s “Alternative Certification Accountability” benchmark,
listed separately, you’ll notice that no state that received a top mark of 4 in alternative certification also received a 4 in holding their certification programs accountable. A whopping 46 states received a score of 1 or 0 in accountability. The report itself concedes that “only five [states] have any meaningful processes by which to evaluate and decommission programs.” It appears that StudentsFirst is more interested in applauding alternative certification for simply existing than alternative certification that’s actually working.

Also important to note: the report is opposed to any regulations as to where alternatively certified teachers are placed. Given that even by StudentsFirst’s own standards very few states can ensure quality alternative certification, why policymakers should allow them anywhere and everywhere is baffling. As a recent report from The Education Trust details, uncertified teachers and teachers lacking subject expertise are more likely to teach in high-poverty secondary schools. First-year teachers are also more likely to be found in high-poverty schools in cities and towns. The very students who need fully certified, experienced teachers are the most are the ones least likely to have them. That districts can save a few dollars by hiring a TFA graduate or someone with a similar lack of experience is likely cold comfort to the students and families being shortchanged.


4. It Continues the Disastrous High-Stakes Testing Drumbeat

StudentsFirst is adamant that both evaluations and teachers' salaries should be determined primarily (50%) on “objective measures of student growth,” i.e. test scores. This will raise a red flag for anyone who has been following the standardized test craze that has enveloped America over the past 10-15 years. In a recent column in The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet,” teacher Adam Heenan relates:

“This year alone, my colleagues and I have devoted a significant chunk of the additional time we were supposed to have for teaching and collaborating to testing. By mid-October, our school had already sacrificed a week’s worth of teaching and learning time for Chicago’s standardized beginning-of-the-year exams for students in their regular classes, to be repeated for the middle-of-the-year and end-of-the-year exams as well. There have been two days of “testing schedules,” where teachers and students in grades 9, 10 and 11 have had to sacrifice instructional time for EPAS exams (the system of grade-aligned tests from ACT).”

It’s not just high school, either. Up to a third of the school year in kindergarten is now spent taking standardized tests, not even counting all the prep time.

In Louisiana, one of two states to which StudentsFirst gave its highest overall mark, a teacher rated “ineffective” when it comes to test scores will automatically be branded “ineffective” overall, regardless of other measures like classroom observations by principals and other administrators. Louisiana also mandates that each year 10% of its teachers, no matter what, must be considered ineffective. Fall into that category two years in a row, and you’re fired.

And the research shows how ineffective these test-based “value added” rating systems are. In March, Phi Delta Kappan published a review of those systems, showing just how dangerously inconsistent they can be — and pointing to more accurate solutions that can actually gauge what goes on in the classroom.


5. It Advocates “Equal Funding” and “Equitable Access” for Charter Corporations and Private Schools, Not Students

The reader can be forgiven for perking up with hope upon seeing sections of the report titled “Fund Fairly” and “Enable Equitable Access to Facilities.” As the OTL Campaign and our allies have long argued, the lack of equitable funding between wealthy and poor districts and schools is a critical problem facing children across the country: inequitable funding means that a student’s access to educational and instructional resources is largely defined by what zip code he or she lives in. Every child deserves a fair and substantive opportunity to learn, and that includes access to everything from AP courses to up-to-date textbooks.
Unfortunately, that isn’t at all what StudentsFirst is interested in here.

Instead, what concerns StudentsFirst in these two sections is making sure that the non-profit and for-profit corporations that run charter schools get every last penny of public money they can. “Enable Equitable Access to Facilities” means charters should get first dibs at public property and pay at or below market value for it. Especially in an age of school budget cuts, suggesting that charter corporations make off with public resources below market value is unconscionable. The report even promotes voucher programs (called “scholarships” in StudentsFirst parlance), one of the oldest ways to siphon public money into private hands. They insist that vouchers should provide a “tuition amount that is competitive with private school tuition.”
One of StudentsFirst’s crowning achievements is its consistent deployment of Orwellian language — using a term to mean its opposite.

What they call “elevating the teaching profession” is little more than its wholesale de-professionalization. Removal of workplace protections, evaluation and compensation based on crude productivity metrics, public shaming of those whose metrics drop regardless of reason, competition between teachers for scarce resources – these are the management techniques of a sweatshop assembly line, not methods for promoting excellence in teachers.

The report claims “each and every public school student deserves a quality public education” while simultaneously pushing privatization: advocating ever more transfers of public education dollars to charter corporations and private school vouchers.

There are many more problems with StudentsFirst’s state report card (including the infamous “Parent Trigger” and its open disdain for democracy and elected school boards. But the overall picture is clear: for the authors and their right-wing benefactors, ideology trumps proven results. Our students, parents, teachers, and community members deserve better.