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In his role at the KIPP Foundation, Richard Buery advocates for policies that make it easier for students from underserved communities to have access to high-quality public schools and lead choice-filled lives. Previously, he served as Deputy Mayor to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, where he led key initiatives including Pre-K for All, which, for the first time, offers free, full-day pre-K for every four year old in NYC.

What motivates you to advocate for education equity?

I grew up in East New York, Brooklyn. My neighborhood was largely Black and Brown, poor and working class. The public schools in our area simply weren’t what the children of our community — or any community — deserved. As a public school teacher, my mother had the access and ability to get my sisters and me into better public schools, but my neighbors didn’t have that opportunity.

My whole career has been built around trying to increase education equity and opportunity for students from marginalized communities. I brought this commitment to Children’s Aid Society in New York, an organization devoted to helping children in poverty succeed and thrive, and to helping found the Children’s Aid College Prep Charter School. I’m also proud to have led New York City’s Pre-K for All initiative, which is now being expanded to three year olds.

In my new role as Chief of Policy and Public Affairs at KIPP, I want to help expand the number of public schools in neighborhoods like the one I grew up in that provide an education that will set students up for a life of fulfillment and economic security.

Share one big success from KIPP’s work to date.

KIPP has developed a successful college counseling model that helps match students from low-income families to the college that best fits their academic skills and career aspirations. We’re proud to see our students graduating from college at three times the national average for students from low- income communities, but that isn’t enough; we believe in taking educational models that work at KIPP and sharing them beyond our walls. At our College Counseling Institute (CCI) this July, KIPP launched a year-long pilot program to share our approach to college counseling with three school districts — New York City Department of Education, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and Newark Public Schools — and one charter group, Aspire Public Schools.

Over the next two years, we will work with our CCI partners to help more young people from low-income families attend and graduate from college. In the process, we will learn from our partners to further refine and improve our approach to college counseling.

What do you think are the most pressing issues in education equity right now? How can advocates address this challenge?

 I believe helping students from low-income families persist to and through college is a critical issue in education equity today. While college is not the only path for students from underserved communities, it is still the surest stepping stone for a life filled with choice and opportunity. Unfortunately, large gaps in college completion persist along lines of race and income.

I have identified three key changes we must see to increase graduation rates for students from low- income families:

  1. We must push for informational transparency from colleges, including statistics around graduation rates, post-college employment and earning, and debt-repayment rates. All this information should be easy for students to find.
  2. We need to insist our policymakers dramatically expand financial support for students from low- income families by increasing the size of work-study grants, state financial aid, and federal Pell Grants.
  3. We must work with institutional leaders to increase the level of innovation around all issues of college access and We know that small, creative shifts can have a big impact — such as college counselors providing a text message “nudge” to encourage high school students to complete their FAFSA on time, or colleges or nonprofits giving college students an emergency “micro grant” of a few hundred dollars that will allow them to remain enrolled in college.

These shifts alone aren’t enough to bridge the graduation gap between students from low-income and affluent communities in America, but they will move us in the right direction in helping ensure that more underserved students earn a college degree.

You’ve been doing education equity issues for a while. How has the landscape changed?

 Today, there is a better understanding among educators in the charter school movement around the importance of addressing factors, outside the classroom, that serve as barriers for young people in reaching their full potential. I believe this is a critical shift.

Over the past 20 years, we have come to understand that running great public schools alone is not enough to give children the opportunities they deserve. Students often face barriers like poverty, homelessness, hunger, trauma, racism, and discrimination. This is particularly true for students who are immigrants, People of Color, LGBTQ, disabled, or living in poverty or communities beset by violence. We believe it is our responsibility at KIPP to engage on any public policy issue that will advance our mission to ensure our students can live choice-filled lives. We must work with community partners to address issues that impact our families beyond the classroom. Education and advocacy are inextricably linked, and it’s our obligation to act.