Credit: Lee Romney
Nzingha Dugas, director of the Oakland Unified School District's new African American Female Excellence initiative, helps girls at West Oakland Middle School work out a dance routine to go with a chant they wrote together.

For 45 years I have worked in the Bay Area as an educator, counselor and project manager. As an educator turned full-time advocate for Black students, I have watched our students continue to be underserved and under-resourced throughout their education. A lack of well-implemented culturally relevant curriculum and grossly disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates are among the systemic barriers that keep Black students at the bottom of the academic achievement ladder.

We need positive solutions to empower our Black educators and students. This comes through resources aimed at creating strategic curricula, student focused programming and professional development opportunities. All of these resources come at a cost, and this heavy lift can’t be done in isolation, and that is why I am calling on the state Legislature to pass, and for Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign, Assembly Bill 2774 to bring education equity now.

It’s a reality few want to acknowledge, but today African American students are the lowest performing student subgroup in the state of California, with 67% not meeting the English Language Arts standards and 79% not meeting math standards. AB 2774, authored by Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, D-San Diego, will help address this inequity as  the state currently does not allocate funds for the lowest performing student subgroup, which has been Black students for the last several decades.

In 2013, California attempted to create more equity in school funding by developing the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF. This groundbreaking policy aimed at making funding more equitable in addition to increasing local control for budgeting decisions. As a part of the funding formula, there were subgroups that receive supplemental funding. Today, the funds are provided to English Language Learners, low-income students, and foster/homeless youth.

However, leaving out the lowest performing student subgroup from supplemental funding under LCFF ignores the particular needs of Black students. One of every four Black students currently is not receiving additional supplemental funding under the funding formula.

This legislation will ensure the lowest performing students are prioritized the same as the other high-needs student groups in the state’s funding formula, providing schools with targeted funding to help better support Black students. In addition, the legislation also will increase accountability by requiring that school districts and charter schools describe how they will address high needs students in their annual Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP.

With AB 2774, there would be more than $5.7 million in additional funds for Santa Clara County public schools and overall, there will be approximately $400 million for public schools across the state to provide further academic support for Black students.

That’s millions of dollars that will be directed to the students who need it most. Students who have received LCFF funding have shown great progress and improved outcomes from the concentrated resources aimed at their improvement. Black students deserve to be lifted up, and these funds are just one way we can do that. I am not alone in recognizing the value and importance of these dollars for our Black students. The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans outlined in their report to add Black students to the existing three student groups listed in the supplemental and concentration grants provisions of the LCFF and to methodically guide this funding to provide instructional support, enrichment, and counseling to Black students.

After decades of advocating for Black students and educators, I am encouraged because we have partners standing beside us to focus on building our students up and tearing down the barriers created by years of systemic racism.

Now, we need state legislators to send AB 2774 to Gov. Newsom and ask that the governor join us to help deliver education equity and provide Black students the resources needed to reach their fullest potential.

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Debra Watkins is a former educator at East Side Union High School District in San Jose, and the founder of teacher, counselor, and project manager and the founder of ABEN, a nonprofit organization working to promote ensure academic and cultural excellence for Black students.

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