Alison Yin for EdSource
Critics of Newsom’s proposal say Black students have long lagged behind in academic performance — and yet there has been no dedicated effort to address Black students in California.

A plan by Gov. Gavin Newsom to increase oversight of all low-performing student groups and focus additional money on the state’s poorest schools has angered a coalition of Black education and civil rights organizations that had pressed him for extra state funding to help Black students.

Lengthy discussions with the governor took a different turn because Newsom’s legal advisers warned that targeting Black students, whose academic performance trails every other racial and ethnic group, could run afoul of Proposition 209. The constitutional amendment, which California voters passed in 1996 and reaffirmed in 2020, bars state action based on race.

Rather than target funds to Black students, Newsom’s plan would target the lowest-income schools that educate about 5% of all students and only 6% of Black students, an EdSource analysis shows. Black students make up 5.1% of the state’s students.

“It’s almost the opposite of what we were asking for,” said Debra Watkins, the founder and executive director of the California-based A Black Education Network.

Watkins is a member of the coalition that sought to increase funding to the roughly 80,000 Black students who do not already receive supplemental funding from the state. She said the governor’s proposal misses the point.

“We’re livid,” she said.

The divide surfaced last fall when Assemblymember Akilah Weber, D-La Mesa, proposed a bill that dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars in ongoing funding to Black students not already covered by state funding. The bill won broad legislative support, but Weber ultimately pulled the bill, AB 2774, after meeting with the governor and members of the California Legislative Black Caucus in August, citing “potential constitutional issues.” Newsom’s office refused to be more specific.

Weber called the governor’s compromise “a good first step,” but other Black organizations insist that the threat of Proposition 209 is overblown. She and others argued the bill would not violate the proposition because the money would go to closing the achievement gap of whichever racial or ethnic group performed the worst on standardized tests. Black students also lag in other metrics contributing to low performance, such as high suspension rates and chronic absenteeism.

Newsom has not been afraid to risk a lawsuit when it comes to standing up for gun control or reproductive rights, said Margaret Fortune, the president and CEO of Fortune School, a group of charter schools in Sacramento serving primarily Black students.

“We want him to stand up for Black kids just like he does for other high-needs groups,” said Fortune.

Newsom’s plan, which is part of the 2023-24 state budget, includes $300 million in new ongoing annual funding to high-poverty schools for what he calls an “equity multiplier.” The funding would be divided among schools based on their students’ eligibility for free meals — at least 90% of students in elementary and middle schools and at least 85% of students in high schools. Newsom’s analysts chose free lunch rather than the broader measure of free and reduced lunch, which would more than double the number of eligible low-income schools and add to the expense of the plan.

Details of the proposals are expected in accompanying legislation, called the trailer bill, due out early in February.

The EdSource analysis estimates that funding from Newsom’s alternative would target 5% of students in the state. The students reached would be mostly Latino, while including about 6% of Black students statewide. The oversight requirements in Newsom’s proposal would extend to all schools in which Black students — or any other tracked student group — performed poorly.

For critics of Newsom’s proposal, there is one overriding fact: Black students have long lagged behind in academic performance as measured by state tests — and yet there has been no dedicated effort to address Black students in California.

“When I started teaching, [Black students] were the lowest-performing subgroup in the state 45 years ago, and they still are now. That’s criminal,” Watkins said.

The governor’s solution doesn’t address the issue that the Black in School coalition raised — the need for more funding focused on Black student success beyond a small portion of schools. Watkins said the coalition was only included in discussions with senior members of the governor’s office a week before the budget proposal was announced.

Coalition members are concerned the governor’s broadly focused proposal will not be as effective as it would have been if it were specifically targeted.

“Historically, the children who need the most help in California don’t fare well with general, so-called equity measures where money is doled out based on their representation in the school population,” said Christina Laster, education adviser for Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Western Region, in a statement on behalf of the Black in School coalition. “Black and Native American students get crumbs.”

The critics say the state must do more to narrow the gaps between Black students and other groups on state achievement tests. In 2021-22, 30.3% of Black students in California met the English language arts standards and just 15.9% met the standard in math.

That’s below every other racial or ethnic group, and drastically below white students who scored 61.4% in English language arts and 48.2% in math. It’s also behind low-income students as a whole: 35.2% of this group in California met English language arts standards and 21.2% met the standard in math.

The gaps are long-standing and widened to over 30 points even before the pandemic when scores dropped for all students.

In 2018-19, 33% of Black students in California met the English language arts standards and just 20.5% met the standard in math compared with white students, who scored 65.4% in English language arts and 54.2% in math.

New focus on oversight

Newsom’s plan is more than new money, however. Expanding oversight of schools where student groups are performing poorly would mark a significant shift in how the state approaches academic improvement. The funding is important but increased oversight is the “real key” to this proposal, said Chris Ferguson, California’s program budget manager for education systems.

A point of contention since 2013 when the state adopted its funding plan for schools, known as the local control funding formula, has been whether state funding should be distributed to the district or schools based on performance on a number of metrics, including test scores. Former Gov. Jerry Brown, who championed the adoption of the formula, insisted that districts should lead the efforts, since the key decisions determining schools’ spending, curriculums, hiring of principals and contracts setting pay and working conditions are made at the district level.

That view of change has been at odds with school-based reforms of the federal government under the Every Student Succeeds Act. It requires that states identify low-performing schools and direct federal funding to those sites. California has complied with the federal program, called Comprehensive Support and Improvement but made it a low priority, with little oversight; Newsom’s equity multiplier would likely include several dozen of the 647 schools on the 2019 federal list, due to be updated soon.

“The Brown administration prioritized the district level and fit the federal school approach into the state accounting system begrudgingly,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney and director of education equity at Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm. “The assumption was that districts would pay attention to the lowest-performing schools and student groups. Newsom recognizes that hasn’t happened enough, and there needs to be a heavier thumb on the scale to guide districts to pay more attention to them.”

Weber supports these requirements for increased accountability missing from her original bill. “Our school systems must show accountability that the funds they receive will be used on (low performing) students and produce improved academic performance,” she said, in a statement. She was unavailable to comment on the analysis showing that 6% of Black students would be reached by Newsom’s funding plan.

Under the local control funding formula, which distributes about three-quarters of state funding for TK-12, districts receive extra money based on the attendance of high-needs students. Those students are defined as English learners, low-income, foster and homeless students. There is no funding directed at racial or ethnic groups, and students in high-poverty schools located in low-poverty districts don’t receive extra “concentration” funding.

The Black in School coalition, which includes local NAACP chapters, Black Students of California United, charter schools and other organizations focused on Black student success, estimates that about a quarter of California’s Black students don’t qualify as high-needs students and so receive no additional funding.

The funding formula requires that districts create a comprehensive document, the Local Control and Accountability Plan, through a public process that demonstrates how they plan to use the additional state funding. They also must identify low-performing student groups, including by race and ethnicity, as designated by colors on the California School Dashboard.

Districts in which two or more student groups receive low ratings on multiple measures, such as test scores and chronic absences, are designated for limited help from their county offices of education. After working with the county to identify root causes of underperformance, districts are largely on their own to address achievement gaps. Only if underperformance increases over five years will the state impose additional measures — which has occurred in fewer than a half-dozen districts.

Critics and researchers, who include the California State Auditor, have said that in practice the public is often not involved enough in funding decisions and that it has remained difficult in many districts to track how extra funding is spent and whether it reaches students who need it the most.

“Most of the extra money has gone to districtwide programs and initiatives and not to the neediest schools,” Affeldt said.

Brian Rivas, senior director of policy and government relations, at Education Trust-West, agreed. “Most advocates would like to see greater confidence that the funding is reaching the intended students,” he said.

That would happen with more intensive oversight at the school level under Newsom’s plan, according to Brooks Allen, the executive director of the State Board of Education and an education adviser to Newsom. Schools would be required to identify disparities in performance, commit to goals, and evaluate whether it was successful. If the plan wasn’t effective, the school would be required to change course.

Outside monitors, probably from county offices of education, would analyze how schools are spending their money. The new “equity leads” also would ensure that schools are engaging with parents and the local community on a plan that addresses underlying issues, including hiring, assigning and retaining qualified teachers.

“It’s very focused on all the student groups that have the greatest needs, and certainly Black students are squarely among them,” Allen said. “We think this focuses those resources in a more meaningful way than just talking about fund generation.”

As an example, the 890 out of 10,558 schools where Black students ranked “very low” for math performance would be required to identify and tackle this disparity, Allen said.

Executive Director of Education Trust-West Christopher J. Nellum wrote in a statement that changes to California’s school funding mechanism will “become an even sharper tool for advancing educational equity.”

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  1. Rogelio Landin 3 days ago3 days ago

    Prop 16 failed because it sought to repeal Prop 209 which was initially flawed in the first place. The focus of these Proposals has been on race and other protected groups commonly included in civil rights and affirmative action executive orders and legislative acts. Historically these federal laws have always included and provided protections for not discriminating on the basis of religion. No such protection or mention is provided for in Prop 209 and by … Read More

    Prop 16 failed because it sought to repeal Prop 209 which was initially flawed in the first place. The focus of these Proposals has been on race and other protected groups commonly included in civil rights and affirmative action executive orders and legislative acts. Historically these federal laws have always included and provided protections for not discriminating on the basis of religion. No such protection or mention is provided for in Prop 209 and by extension Prop 16, making them both unconstitutional by federal standards The same goes for Prop 2 in Michigan and the Proposal in Washington.

    California should regroup and take another run at it by challenging the ballot language as discriminatory on the basis of religion. Basically, if it doesn’t say you can’t, then you can. This is how we legislate now; by omission.

  2. Chris Stampolis 5 days ago5 days ago

    The African-American population is a declining percentage of California's population, but, to be commended, has grown its presence in the college and university system. Nonetheless California now is a brown (Latino/a) state and an Asian-heritage state, with White students in third place among UC enrollees. Power has shifted and African-American leaders need to build a coalition with Latino leaders and Asian-heritage leaders, as they have the population power, whites are declining in numbers … Read More

    The African-American population is a declining percentage of California’s population, but, to be commended, has grown its presence in the college and university system. Nonetheless California now is a brown (Latino/a) state and an Asian-heritage state, with White students in third place among UC enrollees. Power has shifted and African-American leaders need to build a coalition with Latino leaders and Asian-heritage leaders, as they have the population power, whites are declining in numbers and the next 100 years will see African-Americans continue to be at 4 to 6 percent of the state population. If African-Americans in California change their cultural practices and demand that their kids and grandkids learn Spanish and an Asian language, then future Black kids will have a step up for future jobs.

    Mexican-heritage folks no longer are minorities in California. They are the new majority. However, African-Americans are now and for future centuries will be a permanent small minority in California. If Black leaders pivot to build new non-white academic and economic alliances with Latinos and Asian-heritage residents, the future can be bright. Walk away from the fight with white power which is shrinking.

  3. Amanda Hill 6 days ago6 days ago

    When are they going to learn to stop asking that man for help? He only serves himself, not his constituents. If communities focused on getting school choice on the ballot and passed, then educators everywhere would have to improve the service they provide to students to vie for funding and that learning gap would close in the blink of an eye.

  4. Dan Plonsey 6 days ago6 days ago

    This conflict and confusion will inevitably persist, and very little progress will be made -- because the root problems are not being addressed. Instead: 1) Work to eradicate economic inequality among families of students which is the major factor in academic outcomes 2) while we work on (1), meanwhile help schools to recognize and remedy how they could prioritize the needs of the students furthest behind. My school does a great job for privileged kids, … Read More

    This conflict and confusion will inevitably persist, and very little progress will be made — because the root problems are not being addressed. Instead: 1) Work to eradicate economic inequality among families of students which is the major factor in academic outcomes 2) while we work on (1), meanwhile help schools to recognize and remedy how they could prioritize the needs of the students furthest behind.

    My school does a great job for privileged kids, and our funding is 25% above state levels, but a miserable job for Black kids. That’s because we spend resources on extra periods of AP science and advanced math, etc., but there is no high-quality tutoring (by teachers; 1-4 kids; frequently; during school hours) available. Kids who are years behind and kids with IEP’s basically get nothing.

  5. Signor Ugarte 6 days ago6 days ago

    The State needs to provide 3 hours a week 1 on 1 tutoring to all kids who don't have parents who can or choose to do so and try harder to motivate kids. Many teachers and leaders have told children systemic racism is hurting them which is untrue. Do surveys asking kids how many hours weekly they study. Tabulate the corresponding test scores and income. Teach kids non-white immigrants from over 40 African … Read More

    The State needs to provide 3 hours a week 1 on 1 tutoring to all kids who don’t have parents who can or choose to do so and try harder to motivate kids. Many teachers and leaders have told children systemic racism is hurting them which is untrue.

    Do surveys asking kids how many hours weekly they study. Tabulate the corresponding test scores and income. Teach kids non-white immigrants from over 40 African and Caribbean nations and Asia and the Middle East study over double the white average and all earn more than the white average by the second generation. This will motivate kids that if they study more, marry before having kids, save, work hard and stay married they will have great lives of success. This is possible because the median kid in California studies 5.6 hours and these groups 14 or more.

    The average kid spends 40 hours weekly on screen entertainment, gaming and social media, few reading. Teach kids how childhood habits determine adult income. I’ve heard SF teachers claim kids don’t study due to food or housing poverty, but that’s only a small part of the reason. Most is culture and parenting. Obama said you can’t be so poor you can’t read but can watch TV. He was right. Also provide summer reading programs.

  6. JudiAU 6 days ago6 days ago

    We know the real issues. Children need quality childcare, preschool that emphasizes play and social and emotional development, a transitional Kindergarten experience that starts to incorporate academics and pre math and literacy skills, adequate health care, and an expansion of EI to include some older children. These are the factors that prep a child to succeed in Kindergarten and in subsequent years. Parents if your kid is not passing SBAC (which is not particularly … Read More

    We know the real issues. Children need quality childcare, preschool that emphasizes play and social and emotional development, a transitional Kindergarten experience that starts to incorporate academics and pre math and literacy skills, adequate health care, and an expansion of EI to include some older children. These are the factors that prep a child to succeed in Kindergarten and in subsequent years.

    Parents if your kid is not passing SBAC (which is not particularly rigorous on a national level and certainly not on an international level) you need to demand the school take individual and personalized action. Kids not meeting this standard should have a right to an IEP that takes concrete steps to get children up to grade level.

  7. Jim 6 days ago6 days ago

    Is there any evidence that what they are proposing will have any net positive result?