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Last February, Assemblymember Akilah Weber introduced AB 2774. The bill was something of a redux of efforts made by Weber’s mother, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, to improve the performance of Black students. The elder Weber introduced similar bills when she served in the same seat now occupied by her daughter.
The bill would’ve required the state superintendent to determine which group of students that don’t currently receive supplemental funding via the state’s Local Control Funding Formula is the lowest performing on state standardized tests and directed additional funds to them. For decades, the lowest performing student group in California has been Black children. According to the latest state standardized test scores, around 70 percent of Black students don’t meet state standards in reading, and around 84 percent don’t meet state standards in math.
Weber’s bill would’ve directed around $400 million to Black students in California who don’t already receive additional funding.
AB 2774 was widely popular with lawmakers, but ultimately Weber pulled it at the eleventh hour after Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed concerns that its targeting funds to a specific group of students would violate a state constitutional amendment that prevents preferential treatment in public education based on race. Newsom instead included in his budget a plan that would direct funds towards just a fraction of the Black children the bill would have otherwise targeted.
Proponents of AB 2774 like Debra Watkins, who for nearly 50 years has advocated for Black students in California, pointed out that Weber’s bill didn’t even mention race. Instead, it focused on the lowest performing subgroup for additional funds. The money, in other words, wouldn’t have been exclusively tied to Black students.
When Watkins, whose organization A Black Education Network joined the Black in School coalition and others in advocating for AB 2774, heard that Weber had pulled the bill, she was livid.
“What Dr. Weber did felt like a betrayal to all those children, and to the coalition,” Watkins said.
She’d hoped that, at the very least, Newsom would be forced to veto the bill, at which point she and others had planned to sue on the grounds that decades of discrimination have led to low performance among Black students and that none of the interventions implemented have rectified that issue.
“It seems like a failure in leadership to me,” Watkins said. “I feel as though she let the Black students down — they’re voiceless, they don’t have any power.”
Watkins doesn’t believe the compromise proposal that took the place of Weber’s bill — an “equity multiplier” in the governor’s budget — actually does the work AB 2774 was meant to do. The equity multiplier is a functionally different approach to the problem, because rather than targeting the lowest-performing student group specifically — Black students — it would instead add $300 million to the Local Control Funding Formula to target low-income schools. It would also expand oversight of how funding is impacting student groups that are low-performing. But, Watkins said, low-performing Black students aren’t isolated in low-income schools.
“Even in San Diego, where you have high-performing schools, when you disaggregate the data on how the black and brown kids are doing in those high-performing schools, (their scores) are still low,” Watkins said.
The $300 million allocated to the equity multiplier would only reach about 25 percent of the students Weber’s bill would have targeted. Under the new plan around 18,000 Black students would benefit from the funds. AB 2774 would have reached the around 80,000 Black students who don’t already receive supplemental funding.
While she doesn’t question Weber’s decision, Ellen Nash, the chair of the San Diego chapter of the Black American Political Association of California, one of the organizations that joined the Black in School coalition, said she was “very disappointed and surprised” when she saw the equity multiplier proposal. For Black families like hers, who are not low-income but whose children nonetheless experience wide achievement gaps in public schools, the proposal solves none of the problems Weber’s bill would have.
“I was shocked that a (program) that was based on data and facts wasn’t supported, particularly because it had gone all the way through the legislature and the senate and … then [when] the superintendent of instruction signed on, I was like, ‘Okay, this is, this is a no brainer,’” Nash said.
Akilah Weber declined an interview request but pointed to a statement her office released. “I believe this proposal is a step in the right direction but as we all know, details matter. I look forward to working with the stakeholders to ensure this process works for our highest-needs students,” Weber wrote.
Not all Black leaders have the same misgivings. All but one member of the California Legislative Black Caucus signed on to a recent statement that reads “we believe the Governor’s Budget Proposal to be aligned with our priorities to increase academic performance for African American students and look forward to working with the Governor, the Senate and Assembly leaders on refining these proposals with stakeholders that have been fighting for the students for decades.”
For Nash, this is something of an inflection point. Given the failure of AB 2774, she’s not hopeful another bill like it will gain traction statewide, and that it’s now up to local education agencies to ensure better outcomes for Black students. And if public schools don’t improve outcomes for Black students, Nash said parents may look for other options.
“The other elephant in the room is there’s data showing that Black kids perform better in charter schools. Parents like myself and others, we’re going to … do whatever we have to to make sure our kids get a quality education,” Nash said.
Content Bouncing Around My Mind Palace
- Public schools in California lost over 270,000 students during the pandemic. More than 150,000 of those former students cannot be explained by demographic trends or an increase in private or homeschool enrollment.
- The Union Tribune’s Kristen Taketa wrote a five-part series on “the real cost of child care,” the impact on families and the many ways the state’s subsidized system is falling short. It’s really worth a read.
What We’re Writing
- High Tech High’s teachers union officially has a contract, and we were in the room when it was announced.
- Miramar College recently proposed developing a bachelor’s program in public safety management. If the degree is approved, all three of San Diego Community College District’s for-credit schools would offer bachelor’s degree.