Senior and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner James Harnett launched a bid Tuesday to represent Ward 2 on the D.C. State Board of Education.
Harnett said he is running to amplify student voices and maintain equity across D.C. public schools through improved mental health services, technology and local infrastructure in school zones. If elected, Harnett said he plans to strengthen diversity, ensure “high quality” access to public schools across Ward 2 and D.C. and “end punitive discipline practices that enable the school-to-prison pipeline,” according to his campaign’s donation page.
“Serving as an ANC commissioner, representing a district that is entirely made up of students, it’s clear to me how important it is to elevate young people and students’ voices into local government,” he said.
Harnett is campaigning to serve on the State Board, where he would represent local voters and nine public schools in the area, including the School Without Walls – a public high school located on campus. The Board consists of eight representatives for each ward in the District, one at-large member and two nonvoting student representatives from D.C. Public Schools.
He has served on the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission since his sophomore year in 2018, most recently becoming the youngest elected chair of an ANC in the District’s history. As a commissioner, Harnett has pushed the D.C. Department of Transportation officials to install protected bike lanes, crosswalks and expanded sidewalks in Foggy Bottom.
Harnett said he hopes to provide D.C.-area students equal access to educational buildings and resources, like housing and transportation. He said if elected, he would push for more bike lanes and parking spaces near schools, increase access to technology and boost WiFi availability and allow the State Board’s student representative voting power.
“We need to make sure that students not only have a voice, but they have a vote at the table,” Harnett said.
In dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Harnett said officials must rely on science-based data to dictate education plans for the fall, adding that reopening schools in the middle of a pandemic would risk students’ lives.
“Right now I don’t have confidence that we’re in a place where we’re going to make sure that people don’t die if they return to the classroom,” he said.
Harnett said D.C. officials weren’t prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic and did not adequately invest in educational resources for students of all racial backgrounds, deepening the divide between locals with high-quality and low-quality education. He said State Board members must financially invest in public schools to place students on the right track for their future careers and provide “high-quality schools for all.”
“Our lack of focus on these issues over the last few years and our lack of preparedness on these issues is really now coming back to bite us,” Harnett said.
Harnett said his experience serving on the ANC for the past two years has led him to build a “coalition” of college students to learn about the workings of neighborhood politics and represent the school districts encompassing their part of campus.
“I’ve been able to achieve that and make sure that when I’m gone, the power of young people’s voices, the power of students’ voices in our local policy conversations on the ANC across the city are maintained and grow for years to come,” he said.
Harnett said he is meeting with students, teachers, parents and administrators to discuss the reasons he decided to run for the State Board, adding that open communication with community members has enabled him to become the youngest elected ANC chair in D.C. history.
Harnett said he will participate in the Fair Elections Program, an optional financing plan that the Office of Campaign Finance offers for candidates to rely heavily on public financing to fund their campaign and decline individual donations of more than $20. The program will match all individual donations Harnett receives by five times the actual amount and block donations from political action committees and corporations, he said.
Harnett joins four other candidates – Jamaal Burton, Allister Chang, Christopher Etesse and Brandon Frye – in the running for the seat in November’s general election.