Black Students of California United

Black students rally at the Capitol, pushing for more funding in California’s public schools

15 June 2023


More than 2,000 students marched, danced and sang near the Capitol as part of an ongoing effort to increase funding for Black students in public schools.

The rally and its organizers continue to push back against a plan by Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide additional money to the state’s lowest-income schools. Known as the “Equity Multiplier,” the proposal infuriated some education and civil rights organizations that argue more funding is needed for Black student success. Some advocates say Newsom’s plan would help only 6% of Black students statewide, despite the population ranking below every other racial and ethnic group in classroom performance. Black students make up roughly 5% of California’s students.

“In California, equity means everyone but Black students… It’s time for our students to be seen, heard and funded,” said Margaret Fortune, president and CEO of Fortune School of Education. While Fortune and other advocates believe Newsom’s proposal is not doing enough, the governor’s administration highlights the accountability portion of the plan. It would require all school districts to identify where Black student performance is low on a California School Dashboard indicator. Then, through annual community engagement, the plan would implement strategies to improve academic performance. Newsom’s proposal has received support from the California Legislative Black Caucus and the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators.

“There’s a reason why the Governor’s proposal has broad support from Black leaders, educators, and civil rights organizations across the state: this plan is an unmatched game-changer for advancing equity and student achievement using both carrots and sticks — funding and accountability,” said Izzy Gardon, a spokesperson for the governor. On Tuesday, students held up signs citing the achievement gap statistics including “70% of Black kids are below grade level in reading” and “84% of Black kids are below grade level in math.” They also danced to “Teach Me How to Dougie,” sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (also known as the Black National Anthem) and marched around the Capitol while chanting. Hannan Canada, a senior at Cosumnes Oaks High School, publicly shared her frustration about being a Black student in the public school system. She recalled instances of feeling alone in the classroom, and not receiving the appropriate support or counseling because her schools lacked Black faculty.

She expressed hope that many of the younger students in attendance would see an increase in resources before graduating high school. “We have been demanding change for too long without seeing change,” said Canada, who is also president of Black Students of California United. “If we want equity, we need to start seeing direct solutions instead of trying to slap a Band-Aid.” BILL WAS PULLED LAST YEAR Tuesday’s event was sponsored by the Black in School Coalition, a group of scholars, educators and community leaders. Prior to Tuesday’s rally, members of the coalition and students spoke at an Assembly Budget Subcommittee hearing to propose their alternative budget plan. Their funding proposal is estimated to be around $300 million and would benefit 81,000 Black students. Though Newsom’s proposal would generate similar money, Fortune said only $16 million would go to Black students.

Under Newsom’s plan, funding would be based on the percentage of students qualifying for free lunches. Some advocates say that misses the mark for the Black students as they are often not in low-income schools and, if so, they are funded through programs and grants. “The governor’s current proposal targets low-income schools, not the lowest-performing students. There is a difference,” said Christina Laster, the education director of the National Action Network. “Oftentimes, legislators think income is a proxy for race because they assume all Black people are poor,” added Fortune.

The discussion on school funding follows last year’s AB 2774, which could have generated hundreds of millions of dollars for Black students. The legislation, authored by Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, D-San Diego, received overwhelming bipartisan support but was eventually pulled. At the time, Weber cited “potential constitutional issues,” that were learned through conversations with Newsom and members of the California Legislative Black Caucus. She also said Newsom had committed ongoing funding to improve the lowest-performing groups and addressing the needs of Black students. That funding was announced in Newsom’s January budget, and has earned the support of Weber and other Black legislators.

But advocates, like Fortune, now scoff at it. “You want to know how he took care of Black students,” Fortune yelled to the crowd. “He gave you 5%.” Newsom’s next proposed budget is expected to be released in May.

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