Governor Newsom cancels bill to provide more funding for black students

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Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

The sponsor of the legislation that would have provided $400 million in additional funding to increase academic achievement for black students withdrew the proposal hours before it was likely to pass on Wednesday, after Governor Gavin Newsom raised objections.

Newsom’s advisers did not specify what those objections were, though four years ago, in a similar bill, Assembly legislative analysts suggested the legislation would violate Proposition 209, a constitutional amendment of 1996. It prohibits preferential treatment by state and local governments in public employment, education, and contracts based on gender, race, and ethnicity. Two years ago, California voters reaffirmed Proposition 209 by rejecting a move to overturn it.

The 2018 legislation and Assembly Bill 2774, sponsored by Congresswoman Akilah Weber, D-San Diego, would have added funding for the first time to students in the lowest performing group of students, who for decades were black students. Because the bill focused on student performance, not race, Weber and his supporters said the bill would not violate Prop. 209. The bill was passed by the Legislative Assembly with nearly unanimous approval, with no mention of Prop. 209. Facing similar opposition from the then-Govt. Jerry Brown, the 2018 bill, while popular, also stalled before reaching Brown’s desk.

Weber said she withdrew the bill after lengthy negotiations with Newsom staffers. She and the Newsom administration were optimistic but circumspect in statements in which they agreed to work together towards a common goal.

Weber wrote that she was “pleased to announce” that Newsom “has committed to continued funding and to working with us to create a comprehensive policy” to improve performance “for students in the lowest performing groups and the related goal of meeting the needs of black students.”

A statement from Newsom’s office said the administration is committed to working with Weber, the California Legislative Black Caucus and others “to develop a comprehensive proposal” in the 2023 state budget that would “focus resources and increased services to the needs of our lowest performing students. .” Neither Newsom nor Weber acknowledged that Prop. 209 was a problem.

Proponents of the bill were reportedly angry at the terms of a three-page agreement reached by Weber and the administration, and some would have preferred to send Newsom the bill to sign or veto.

The bill would have capped a five-year campaign initiated by Weber’s mother, Shirley Weber, who held Akilah Weber’s Assembly seat before Newsom appointed her secretary of state. Similar versions of the first bill also failed to pass despite substantial support.

“We let black kids down for years,” Akilah Weber said earlier this year. “No one should bring this to the state, it should be something that the state has recognized and wants to fix on its own because you want the best for the kids.”

In 2018-19, the last year before the pandemic, only 33% of black students met or exceeded standards in English language arts, and only 21% met or exceeded standards in math on state tests, compared to 51% in English Language Arts and 40% in Mathematics for all California students. Proportionally, twice as many white students passed the tests, and the gap was greatest with Asian students; 79% of Asians met or exceeded standards in English and 77% in math. In math, low-income white students performed better than low-income black students.

“The data shows that longstanding academic underachievement and systemic neglect are chronic and unaddressed,” said Margaret Fortune, president and CEO of Fortune School, a group of 10 charter schools concentrated in the region. of Sacramento, serving primarily black students. Fortune School and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond co-sponsored the bill.

The bill would have changed the local control funding formula to add a new category of students eligible for additional funding: the group of low-performing students not already covered by the law. This would distribute approximately $400 million to 785 districts, beginning in 2023-24, based on enrollment of black students.

The formula currently provides supplemental funding to low-income, foster and homeless English language learners and children, with additional ‘focusing’ funding where these students are disproportionately enrolled. But each qualifying student receives money for only one category; low-income English language learners do not receive double funding.

Black students make up 5.6% of the state’s 5.9 million students. Given that approximately 70% of Black students are low-income, the $400 million would cover 80,000 of the 285,000 Black students enrolled in 2021-22 who are not low-income, homestay or homeless.

Fortune said issues of race and poverty are often confused. “Something about the achievement gap isn’t just about poverty,” she said. “Something more is at stake.”

About a quarter of the 80,000 students are enrolled in 10 districts, run by Los Angeles Unified, which reportedly received more than $45 million for nearly 6,000 students; Long Beach Unified, whose 2,600 students reportedly attracted $20 million; and West Contra Costa Unified, whose 2,054 students would have earned $16 million, based on 2021-22 funding levels, according to a database on a website created by the sponsors.

Additional funding would have started next year. Under the bill, school districts should have included a three-year funding plan for increased or improved programs or services to meet the needs of Black students in their local control and accountability plans, as they see fit. have done with English Learners and other student groups. receive additional funding and focus. By law, they must involve the public in the creation of the plan.

The example of Fresno

The money could fund tutoring and other academic or personnel programs focused on success for black people. In 2017, Fresno Unified took the initiative on its own when it created the Office of African American Academic Acceleration, known as A4 and budgeted $9 million to identify and address the causes the gap in academic achievement among African American students, who make up 8% of all students and other student groups.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson said last month that passing the bill would provide “a sustainable source of funding and eliminate the narrative that you don’t have money to spend on these students.” did he declare.If you can crack that nut, you can apply lessons to other disproportionate groups.

Fresno Unified also announced the launch of the state’s first dual-enrollment alliance with one of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.

HBCU’s Step-Up Pathways program will provide 100 students from three of Fresno’s nine high schools with free enrollment in online classes at Benedict College, a small liberal arts college in South Carolina. Students will be coached in class on days they are not online. Courses will be transferable to community colleges in California, and the district is in the process of entering into a credit transfer agreement with Fresno State, Fresno Superintendent Bob Nelson said.

Nelson said the district is in preliminary talks with historically black Christian St. Augustine University in Raleigh, North Carolina, about opening a physical campus in Fresno. It would be the first HBCU to open west of Texas, he said.

Fortune said 89% of Fortune Early College High School students earn a college degree and more than a quarter of school graduates earn one or two associate degrees, compared to 1% of California high school graduates. black across the state.

Students at Fortune charter schools, where students attend Saturday school and summer programs, graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.

After stifling the first version of the bill in 2018, Governor Jerry Brown agreed to include $300 million in one-time funding over three years for all low-performing students not covered by supplemental funding under the formula. funding, but not exclusively for the lowest. – group of student performers. An analysis found that only 8% of this funding was allocated to black students.

Covid has interfered with the ability of districts to implement new programs and document them for reporting to the Legislative Assembly. Fortune said this is not a substitute for ongoing funding, which would allow for long-term investments, including staff positions. That was the advantage, she says, of the AB 2774.

Under the bill, the California Department of Education would have named the lowest performing group each year, based on Smarter Balanced scores. If black students outperform the second lowest performing group of students, currently Native Americans, then those students would receive additional funding and concentration. However, black students would continue to receive additional funding until that group had matched or exceeded the performance of the highest group, Asian students.

Closing the gap, with additional funding and evidence-based programs, should be achievable, but eliminate a performance gap of 40 percentage points in English language arts and nearly 60 percentage points in math would be a major long-term challenge.

Students with disabilities, who score lower than black students, were excluded from the bill because they receive state funding outside of the local control funding formula.

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