Black parents, educators and students are working to ensure that California’s new education funding model remains undistorted and targets additional resources where they are needed most.
By Olu Alemoru, California Black Media
With school districts across California gearing up to finalize their 2014-15 budgets, African-American parents and educators are closely watching how the state’s radical new funding model will affect Black students.
The coming fiscal year will be the first under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and its implementation method, the Local Control Action Plan (LCAP). They are designed to address the academic achievement gap affecting African-Americans and Latinos, by targeting additional resources at the lowest performing schools — those that tend to have a high concentration of low-income families, English language learners and students in foster care.
However, since the California State Board of Education (SBE) early this year issued a template detailing how those funds might be spent, stakeholders of color have expressed deep concern that those dollars could be diluted across the entire system rather than aimed where they’re needed most.
“The concern was that in the LCAP it does not say you have to [explicitly] focus on those groups,” said Dr. Judy White, superintendent of Moreno Valley Unified School District and the president of the California Association of African-American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA).
To better grasp the task before educators, observers have been digging deep into understanding where exactly the state’s African-Americans are, and what is needed to boost their academic fortunes in California’s 68 counties.
According to the California Department of Education, the state averages an African-American student population of 6.3 percent. By percentage, the ten counties with the highest concentration of African-American students are, in descending order: Solano (16.8); Sacramento (13.2); Alameda (12.8); Contra Costa (10.5); San Francisco (9.8); San Bernardino (9.2); Inyo (9); San Joaquin (8.7); Los Angeles (8.5); and Riverside (6.7).
In a dramatic show of how implementation of LCAP could play a decisive role in shaping the future for students of color, hundreds of demonstrators took part in a raucous protest outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters on April 7. One of the key themes of the rally: the unveiling of a comprehensive, data-driven “Student Need Index,” which uses environmental, social and academic factors known to impact student achievement — such as poverty and violence — to produce a district-wide ranking of schools based on need.
“We want to make the point that South L.A. needs better resources,” said student leader Damian Valentine, a senior at Manual Arts High School. He described the circumstances that could affect his peers’ academic performance. “I and my friends have gone to school and not known whether we were going to be jumped by gang members or stopped by the police. Sometimes our books are torn up or have graffiti all over them.”
Alberto Retana of the Community Coalition echoed those sentiments. “We’re here to push the LAUSD to direct the new LCFF to the highest-needs schools in the district,” he said. “That is schools with the highest number of [students in] foster care, issues with gun violence and the lowest test scores. They can’t be left behind. We have a unique opportunity to change the way in which we finance L.A. Unified, and we have to make sure they are listening.”
Dr. Ramona Bishop, superintendent of the Vallejo City Unified School District in Solano County, is among those leading the charge in Northern California to ensure that the spirit of LCFF/LCAP is strictly adhered to as funds are doled out.
“We have the highest concentration of African-American students within our district, and we’ve really looked at our achievement scores in terms of the root of this legislation — and what you find is that certain sub groups just need extra care to meet our high expectations of them,” she said. “More specifically, when you talk about disproportionality in expulsions and suspensions, you find that one of the key measures calls for us to reduce those statistics. You can’t help but see that African-American students are at a disadvantage.”
According to Bishop, her district has taken the the pulse of the community to ensure that all voices is heard. “We got over 50 percent of our families, 75 percent of our teachers and over 20 percent of our students to complete a survey so that we could do a needs assessment,” she added. “We took that and met with small groups, which included parents, teachers and students, to see what was working and what could be improved. We’re just getting ready to commit that to paper.”
She added: “Students recommended things like more after-school time, which included tutoring and enrichment and asked for Saturday academies around science, technology, engineering and math. They felt student achievement was the number-one priority. They wanted to make sure we had a favored teacher in each classroom, because they could point to the teachers that were really doing their best; they would be there all the time to plan, collaborate and engage with students and their families. The students also wanted to figure out how we could include extra coaching and development for teachers to enhance our recruitment efforts.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and members of the state board of education did not respond to a request for comment placed through Julie White, the board’s director of communications. But for Bishop, who recalled attending a marathon eight-hour January board meeting (during which several activist demonstrators were ejected from the chamber for protesting too loudly), this is a defining moment in the history of the California education system.
“My colleagues and I are really taking this very seriously, because we all believe in the public education system,” she said. “We’re trying to come up with some innovation that is going to stick for our students. We appreciate that the Legislature has gone out on a limb and really provided some funding for the students that need more of our care. Now it’s our turn to come up with some plans, monitor them and really make an impact on student achievement.”