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February 16, 2018

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MRH Launches Pro-Public Education Awareness Campaign with Film Screening

MRH panel for documentary film screening.In the fall of 2017, Maplewood Richmond Heights School district superintendent Karen Hall had a chance encounter with documentary filmmaker Sarah Mondale at an education conference in California. Immediately, Hall knew that Mondale's 2015 film "Backpack Full of Cash" just had to be screened back home.

Tuesday night, it was. 

MRH teachers support public education.A crowd packed the MRH high school theatre to watch "Backpack," a feature-length movie shot primarily in Philadelphia and New Orleans during 2013, a period when the public schools in those cities were rapidly approaching extinction due to draconian budget cuts.  

Through a series of in-school interviews with students, teachers, and journalists, the film makes the case that when students are lured away from public schools by non-traditional charters, private schools, and those which utilize government vouchers, the dollars allotted to educate those students disappear... leaving district schools with far fewer funds to maintain payroll, preserve transportation, and pay the electric bill.

The film spotlights specific individuals in the school reform movement, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal who espoused privately-run schools as the solution to "failing" public schools. Others, including Philadelphia district administrators and teachers' union activists pointed out that traditional public schools lag only because the privatization push opens the door for legislatures nationwide to continually slash the dollars necessary for proper educations.

The MRH screening of "Backpack" concluded with a spirited hour-long panel discussion featuring state school board members Mike Jones and Vic Lenz, Charter Public School Commission chairwoman Alicia Kotarba, Sen. Jake Hummel D-St. Louis, and MRH Superintendent Karen Hall. The session was moderated by MRH board member Nelson Mitten.

Hall stressed that successful public schools only remain successful when they have the full support of the community behind them.  Jones agreed, while lamenting that too many public districts have not adapted to evolving technology and modern operating models.  Lenz and Kotarba offered the notion that many Missouri charter and private schools are producing high-quality educational outcomes and strong test scores, despite popular belief to the contrary.  Kotarba also acknowledged that several charters in the city of St. Louis ought to have their licenses revoked for failing to maintain promised standards, but doing so is easier said than done.   

Senator Hummel and others expressed grave disappointment with recent actions by Mo. Governor Eric Greitens, who essentially purged the previous school board members in favor of appointees who would support his pro-privatization agenda.  Greitens' office was asked repeatedly to participate in the MRH panel, but no reply was received. 

Thursday's free public screening was just step one in a series of pro-public education events taking place at MRH in the coming months. Keep an eye on our web site and our Facebook page for announcements about future events. 

For more information, contact MRH School District at (314) 644-4400.