From guest blogger Gina Cairney
The Public Education Network has announced plans to close its national office in Washington, D.C., today, after 21 years of working to help all children—especially minority and disadvantaged children—have access to quality education.
But PEN's network of independent, community-based, nonprofit organizations called local education funds, will continue working with their school districts and local communities in high-poverty areas—much as they did before PEN was formed, Amanda Broun, PEN's former senior vice president, said in an email.
UPDATE: The network's organizers closed the national office because its original goals have been met, and there's no longer an "economic climate" to support a membership organization like PEN's, according to Broun. The LEFs have "become mature organizations which have moved from mainly project-oriented work they were doing in the 1990s to policy work, public engagement" and college and career readiness, Broun said.
The LEFs were first started with funding from the New York-based Ford Foundation in 1983 as a response to the landmark "A Nation At Risk" report, Broun said, with the intention of reconnecting the public with local public schools.
PEN was formed in 1991 as a successor to the initial network started by Ford, and to enable the local funds to broaden financial and public support for their efforts and share strategies. Since then, Broun said, PEN—and its independent organizations—have worked to "affect policy, engage the public, and ensure that all children graduate ready for college and career."
In its press release, PEN stated that its LEFs "are well-positioned in the national landscape of school reform organizations because [they] are doing extraordinary and innovative work."
LEFs "created and pioneered urban teacher residency programs," advocated for access to and success in postsecondary education, and worked to engage the public on a national scale, according to the press release.
Jeff Smith, the executive director of the school reform advocacy group, DC Voice, which was a member of the PEN network, said in an email that conversations around community engagement for school reform have been narrowed by some financial stakeholders to the idea of school choice.
This "push for individualism and a disinvestment in the kind of collective advocacy, action, or discourse which PEN was founded on," is what "suffocated" organizations like PEN, and is hurting reform groups like DC Voice, Smith said.
"It has been disheartening, at best, to witness this progression, firsthand," Smith said, "and I will miss having PEN as a partner."
Another PEN partner, the National PTA, also expressed regret at the national office's closing.
"National PTA has enjoyed a strong partnership with [PEN]," Besty Landers, president of National PTA, said in an email, and "PEN's advocacy on behalf of a strong public school for every child, regardless of zip code, will be missed."