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Staff Blog

What Quality Public Education Can Be

Kelly Osajima

I started working at Evolve nearly two years ago to fight for Prop. 13 reform because I hold a deep conviction that the foundation of a great society lies in accessible and quality public education.

Why? Because education can be the most powerful way to create opportunities for everyone, regardless of where they come from. It’s the way that people can discover their passion and realize their own potential. It’s the way we are shaped into thoughtful human beings who then use our knowledge and passion to change the world.

How do I know? Because public education transformed my life.

I grew up in Yorba Linda, a suburb of Orange County that ranks amongst the wealthiest cities in the U.S. in household income.  The front gates of my elementary, middle, and high school all display the prominent blue and white seal proclaiming their elite status as “A California Distinguished School.”

The thirteen years I spent in our K-12 schools were among the most stimulating, challenging, and formative years of my (admittedly short) life.  My elementary school days consisted of dissecting owl pellets and inspecting the tiny mouse skulls within them, discussing famous paintings, and organizing back-to-school nights in which our parents came to our classroom to learn skills from us.


My high school years brought fantastic language arts teachers who taught me how to think for myself.  It consisted of fiery debates on affirmative action and immigration in my government class, debates which sparked my passion for social justice.  And most of all, it had a stellar choir program that taught me self-motivation, confidence, and the priceless lesson of working in a team to achieve a common goal.

I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have access to an incredibly well-resourced public education.  And forty years ago, when California had the best funded schools in the country, my experience could have been anyone’s.

But today’s youth have been robbed of that chance.

One of my best friends teaches “general music education” at a low-income middle school in Southern California.  She was supposed to be a choir instructor, but her school district isn’t hiring any new choir teachers.  Now, the only elective in the school is her generic music class - no band, no home ec, no woodworking, no visual arts.

She tells me she has to fumigate her classroom because hundreds of cockroaches live in the walls of the school.  Her floor hasn’t been mopped all year.

The school is drastically understaffed.  Without anyone to oversee discipline, behavior in her classroom is completely out of control, making it impossible to teach anything substantial.  “Half of these kids will drop out when they get to high school,” she tells me.  “They’re already giving up. They know they’re getting this terrible education and they feel hopeless.” 

There is a lump in my throat that will not go away as she tells me this.  There is a pain in my heart that arises when the injustice of our education system becomes so apparent.  

Today, we live in a society that has chosen not to prioritize public education.  We have allowed cuts to our schools to happen year after year, and these cuts hurt our most vulnerable youth the most.

We cannot afford to wait any longer to reinvest in our schools.  With every year that goes by action, we fail another generation of students who will never reach their full potential because they’ve fallen victim to a system that sets them up for failure.

Public education can be transformative. That’s why we fight for education funding, and that’s why I’m dedicating my life to this work.  Because if more education funding means that one little girl out there gets to find herself through sports, art, or music the way I did, it will have all been worth it.