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NMSU College of Education to host screening of documentary ‘Backpack Full of Cash’

Two documentary filmmakers will visit New Mexico State University next week to screen their acclaimed film, “Backpack Full of Cash,” narrated by Oscar-winning actor Matt Damon.


Group photo
From left, director Sarah Mondale, cinematographer Roger Grange and co-producer/editor Vera Aronow filmed their documentary, “Backpack Full of Cash,” to showcase a model for improving public schools. Mondale and Aronow will host a discussion following the film’s screening, which will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at New Mexico State University's Atkinson Music Recital Hall. (Photo courtesy of Stone Lantern Films)
Film poster
Director Sarah Mondale and co-producer/editor Vera Aronow will screen their documentary, “Backpack Full of Cash,” from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at New Mexico State University's Atkinson Music Recital Hall. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Mondale and Aronow. (Photo courtesy of Stone Lantern Films)

Sarah Mondale and Vera Aronow will host a discussion following the film’s screening, which will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19 at the NMSU Atkinson Music Recital Hall. The screening is free and open to the public, and is a featured portion of the College of Education’s first landmark symposium, “Re-Imagining the Future of Learning.”

At the heart of the film are topics that have been subject to national debate: charter schools, vouchers and privatization. The documentary takes viewers into the world of market-based education “reform,” and follows a tumultuous 2013-14 school year in Philadelphia and other cities where public education – starved of resources and undermined by privatization – is at risk. The documentary also showcases a model for improving schools – a well-resourced public school system in Union City, N.J., where children from low-income families are getting a high-quality education without charters or vouchers. The film makes the case for public education as a basic civil right.

“I come from a family of teachers. I know the value of what public education did for me,” Mondale said. “Public schools face big challenges, but I think with charters and vouchers, there’s a real danger of undermining the system.”

In a press statement issued in conjunction with the film’s release, Damon said he became involved with the film because of the valuable public education he received and because his mother is an educator.

“I got involved in ‘Backpack Full of Cash’ because I believe that every kid should have access to great public schools,” Damon said. “I got a great education in public schools and my mom is an educator so I know just how hard teachers work every day.”

The film features principals, teachers, activists and parents, and students who are fighting for their education. Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, writer David Kirp and policy expert Linda Darling Hammond are among the national thought leaders who provide analysis in the film.

“We wanted to understand the impact of reforms on the public schools, and give the families and educators who are most affected a chance to tell their own stories,” Aranow said.

Mondale directed and co-produced the award-winning, four-part PBS series, “SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education,” narrated by actress Meryl Streep, which was seen by an estimated six million viewers. “Backpack Full of Cash” is a follow up to the series, and a rebuttal to the 2010 documentary, “Waiting for Superman.”

For more information about the symposium, visit https://alliance.nmsu.edu/nmsu-college-of-education-symposium-2/.