Julia Zammith is the policy and advocacy manager at Rodel, a nonprofit in Delaware that works with policymakers, people in the private sector, philanthropists, and practitioners to make systemic changes that benefit public school students in the state. She provides research and data support to advance priority areas and assist in outside partner projects and communications. Prior to joining the team, Julia held policy positions in Washington D.C., including as a government relations associate with the Educational Testing Service. More recently, she worked as a certified secondary math and social studies teacher for Great Oaks Charter School in Wilmington, DE. She also recently completed her two-year service with Teach For America. Julia graduated from American University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations and holds a Master of Arts in teaching from the Relay Graduate School of Education. She also recently completed a Master of Science in educational improvement and transformation at Drexel University.

What does education equity mean to you?

Education equity means that every student has the support and resources they need to be successful in college, career, and life. Education equity is essential for a functional and thriving society. Education has often been referred to as “the great equalizer,” but it can only be an equalizer if students have individualized resources and support to reach their full potential.

What (or who) motivates you to advocate for education equity?

Growing up in a low-income, predominantly minority neighborhood in West Oakland, California, I saw firsthand how incredibly intelligent and talented children were denied the same opportunities and resources that I had access to because of my French citizenship and my mother’s time spent filling out scholarship applications for private French American schools. Even as a child, it did not feel right to me that I should be awarded opportunities that my neighbors didn’t have, just due to my international citizenship. Beyond that, when I did my Teach For America service, I saw even more closely how incredible students were lacking the resources they needed to be successful, which motivates me constantly to keep advocating for all students.

How has the education landscape changed since you started this work?

I have not been in this work for very long, roughly five years at this point, so there hasn’t been a huge amount of change. The pandemic turned the entire landscape of education on its head and highlighted a lot of cracks in the system, but it also allowed for an unprecedented amount of innovation and creativity. It also allowed for much more collaboration and learning across states, which I think shifted how people look at what is possible in education. While there is still a lot of work to be done, the landscape of collaboration and creativity that has come about is exciting and encouraging. Ensuring that we keep this momentum and spirit is crucial for continued improvement.

What do you think is the most pressing education equity issue right now? How can advocates address this challenge?

I think the most pressing education equity issue right now is the lack of equity in funding and the lack of funding overall in public education. No state is funding education at a level that is deemed “adequate” for a quality education, so equity falls even further behind. We cannot expect our children to succeed and thrive when we are not providing the resources necessary for them to do so. Advocates need to push for adequate and equitable funding for education, and while it is difficult to do when no state has reached this goal, it is not impossible. We need to remain persistent and aspirational in our goals.

Why is equitable school funding and implementation so important to education equity?

We cannot expect our schools and our educators to be successful without the necessary tools. We wouldn’t expect a contractor to be able to fix a roof without the proper tools, and yet we expect our students to succeed in schools with underpaid teachers, underfunded classrooms, and without equitable access to extracurriculars, advanced coursework, dual credit opportunities, among other things. Equitable funding and implementation would allow education to be that “great equalizer” that we aspire for it to be.

Share one big success from your advocacy work around school funding to date.

One big success in our advocacy work has been putting the topic of education funding front and center in our gubernatorial race. In May, we held a gubernatorial forum where all five candidates were present and all spoke on the issue of education funding. Several years ago, the topic would not have factored into the race, and now candidates are elevating the issue unprompted in other forums and in their platforms.

What keeps you grounded and hopeful throughout this difficult work?

What keeps me grounded is always remembering who I am doing this for. We are doing this work for all the kids in the state and, hopefully, for Delaware to be the example for other states to make substantial changes. I think also knowing that the work is slow and not linear helps keep me grounded, knowing that even if things don’t play out in the immediate term or the way we expected, any progress is good progress.

What’s next regarding your work?

Next for our work at Rodel is continued grassroots and grasstops advocacy. We are working on building capacity with our community-based partners and student and educator advocates through working groups and trainings. We are also working with our legislature to support a bill to develop a commission on school funding to address the recommendations from a recent American Institutes of Research report and a potential roadmap for implementation of those recommendations.

What advice do you have for other state advocates who are also pushing for equitable school funding in their communities?

One piece of advice that I would give would be that working at both the grassroots and grasstops levels simultaneously is critical. At Rodel, we have been working with our legislators, Vision Coalition of Delaware insiders and influencers, and individuals, and we have been working with students, educators, parents, and community organizations at the same time. This allows us to work full circle. When a bill comes up in the legislature that we worked on with a legislator, we also have individuals to call upon for public comment. When a legislator has a question about how an issue shows up in their district, we also have connections to community members who can share their stories with that legislator. It allows us to work effectively and make critical connections across the state to ensure that everyone is talking about the issue and is informed.