California Weighs How to Improve Outcomes for Black Students

. The proposal would give more money to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

SACRAMENTO (Calif.) - The California Legislature is weighing a governor's proposal. Gavin Newsom wants to put $300 million aside for schools with low incomes. Some education advocates claim it will not be enough to improve the educational outcomes of Black students.

Akilah weber, a San Diego Democrat, introduced a bill in the last year to ensure that more money for education reaches Black students. She pulled the bill from the Senate after a conversation with Newsom. She cited concerns that the bill could violate state or U.S. Constitution because it targeted a specific racial groups, even though 'Black' was not mentioned by name. Weber is in favor of the new Democratic approach to funding that targets schools with high concentrations of students eligible for free meals under federal programs.

She said that the proposal was exactly what her state needed to repair the harms caused by inequity and ensure our schools were more accessible and fair for all students.

Weber and others are supporting Newsom's plan, but some supporters of Weber's legislation say California needs to come up with an even more targeted solution for Black students. They are worried about the disparity in academic performance between Black students and their peers. The Black in School Coalition led a Tuesday rally outside the Capitol of thousands of students and advocates who backed Weber’s previous bill.

The Coalition wants $300 million targeted to schools that have a high percentage of students performing poorly in at least two of these indicators, as outlined by Department of Education. These include: academic performance; chronic absenteeism; college or career advancement; English Learner Progress, graduation rate and suspension rate.

Margaret Fortune, CEO of a network charter schools that aims to close the achievement gap between Black and white students, said: 'For ten years, our funding formula has not done anything in particular for Black children, and that's why it's about time that we change.'

Fortune was referring what is called the Local Control Funding Formula which dictates how funding for school districts.

The educator had previously taken the matter to the Reparations Task Force of the state, which is a group that studies how the state can atone and make amends for slavery and discrimination against African Americans.

According to state data, about 70% of Black students did not meet the state's English Language Arts standards in 2021-2022, while less than 40% white students did. Around 84% of Black Students did not meet math standards compared to about 50% of White students.

According to Newsom's plan, money would be given to elementary and middle school students who qualify for free meals, and to high schools where at least 85% students are eligible.

In a press release, Izzy Gardon from Newsom said that the proposal of Governor Newsom represents a major shift in California's fight to close persistent gaps in achievement and provide an equal education for all students.

As originally written, the proposal gives schools wide latitude in how they spend the money. However, it would require that they report the use of the funds to the state.

CalMatters found that less than 26 percent of Black students attended a school eligible for the program.

Tinsae Berhanu, student and health ambassador of the Black Students of California United said that the state must do more to improve outcomes of Black students. This includes ensuring the composition of teachers is more varied and combating the high expulsion rate.

Birhanu stated that "our education system should not be anything less than we deserve."

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (a Democrat from the Sacramento suburbs who is also the chair of the subcommittee) expressed his support for this proposal, but cautioned that increased funding for schools won't solve the problem.

He said, "So many of these occur outside the classroom."

He also noted that other factors can contribute to poorer student performance, such as coming from a low-income family or living in a neighborhood with limited resources.

During the hearing, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (a Democrat from the Los Angeles suburbs) questioned Newsom's administration about the funding that will be used for students to improve their school performance, including hiring literary coaches and tutors.

Newsom's representatives didn't provide clear answers. Department of Finance officials stated that the proposal is intended to increase transparency regarding how money is spent.

Newsom's Administration released its first budget proposal in early January. The language of the budget can be changed as the administration continues its testimony before the budget subcommittees. The administration has until May to make changes. The Legislature must adopt a budget on June 15th.