Public education helped to build our democracy, and continues to make our country stronger day after day. Teachers help raise our children, train our workforce, instill values, and share their love of learning.
Today that institution is under attack. When education is treated as a source for profit, it becomes easy for students to fall through the cracks. Special needs students, students with disabilties, students from underserved communities or at-risk neighborhoods; all these children suffer when education is treated as a for-profit commodity.
The federal government must strengthen and expand our public education system. I support amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would raise the floor of our public education system by reducing class sizes; increasing teacher compensation; providing for arts, athletics, and STEM programs; installing modern technology in every classroom; and guaranteeing quality special education programs.
My Background: Public Education
When I was 19 years old and attending college, I knew that I wanted to return to my hometown of Oakland, California, to give back to my community.
I decided to enlist in AmeriCorps, our civilian national service program, and its teaching program, Teach for America. I committed to spend at least two years teaching in some of our country’s most disadvantaged school districts.
So, in the summer of 1999, I joined 700 other TFA corps members in Houston, Texas, to begin our training. I met amazing, committed, creative people that summer, including people who became my best friends for life. I met my wife, Hindatu, there, and we were both sent to Oakland to begin our teaching career.
I went on to teach 3rd grade, 5th grade, and 8th grade over five years in the public schools. I taught in Oakland for several years, and I taught in New York City as well.
In addition to teaching, I was very active in my teachers’ unions and school communities. I ran an after-school program at the first school I taught at, developed a city-wide talent showcase with other teachers, and helped to co-found a new public school, ASCEND, that is focused on arts education and project-based learning.
I also became a part of community coalitions that fought against the privatization of public education. In 2002, the State of California took over the Oakland school district and immediately sought to close thirteen neighborhood schools. We got upwards of a thousand people to attend a board meeting, and through collective action, including civil disobedience, we were able to save most of the threatened schools.
After a few years of teaching, I worked with some of my TFA colleagues to co-found two nonprofit education agencies, including the organization now known as the Oakland Public Education Fund, as well as Oakland Leaf, where I served as executive director for four years. At Oakland Leaf, I helped launch free after-school and summer programs that have served thousands of Oakland children and youth.
After leaving Oakland Leaf to start a career in law, I returned as a Board member for several years. I also helped to co-found Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, an organization dedicated to empower youth affected by gang activity.
Endorsed by teachers throughout the 10th district
“Austin teachers and school employees endorse Mike Siegel for Congress because he will fight for us, our students, and public education in Texas.”
- Ken Zarifis, President, Education Austin