Credit: Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages
A student uses a drill press to work on an engineering project.

No one needs to tell me about inequity in the classroom.

In my childhood, as a Black student growing up in Indiana, I experienced it firsthand — outdated textbooks, mediocre school resources and few academic supports.

Unfortunately, like many injustices, the inequities of the past still haunt us today:

More than four decades after I graduated from high school, and over 2,000 miles away in California, as executive director of one of the nation’s leading and largest associations for Black school superintendents and administrators, I see every day how inequities still deny Black students a fair shot.

For Black boys and girls, learning challenges often get dismissed. Academic needs go overlooked. Today, our young Black students walk into classrooms across California, and indeed our nation, and face a confluence of roadblocks — of prejudice and inequitable systems that hold them back.

It’s true we’ve made light years of progress, but we can’t shy away from the truth: opportunity and achievement gaps remain far too entrenched for African American students. Just take the fact that in the 2021-22 school year alone, about 70% of Black students failed to meet state testing standards for English language arts, compared with less than 40% of white students, according to state data.

The results for math? Even worse.

If this isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is. The time for sweeping action to address longstanding inequities is now.

And that’s why I’m so heartened to see California on the precipice of delivering on something Black educators, administrators and political leaders have been fighting for for years: unprecedented funding and real accountability measures to ensure our schools address the elephant in the classroom that I’ve been fighting to erase my entire career — persistent opportunity and achievement gaps for Black students.

Tucked inside Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget announcement on Friday was a bold and transformative proposal: budget language that embeds new accountability measures into California’s existing school funding framework — the Local Control Funding Formula — to harness all $80 billion in K-12 funding and add a complimentary $300 million proposal dubbed the “equity multiplier” to address inequities in student performance.

This comprehensive proposal, developed in partnership with the California Legislative Black Caucus and consistent with recommendations from Black administrators, educators and advocates, would require all school districts to publicly identify where African American student performance is very low, and then, through engagement with parents and stakeholders, annually develop and revisit goals and action plans to improve performance. All supported by billions in state funding.

Once implemented, it’s estimated that school districts serving 95% of African American students in California would need to develop, fund and implement specific strategies to address significant opportunity and outcome gaps for Black students.

To say this is a game-changer for equity is an understatement.

As a scholar and expert on this issue, I know there is no silver bullet. We can’t erase centuries of racism, disfranchisement and education inequities overnight, but this proposal gets us closer than we’ve ever been to ensuring that every Black boy and girl has an equal footing in California— an equal shot at realizing the California dream.

I know it’s possible because I’m here. I was once a Black student in a poorly equipped classroom without the academic supports I needed. I was able to achieve success as an exception, but success for our students deserves to be the norm. That’s why I support the governor’s proposal — and why the Legislature should approve it.


Dwight Bonds is the executive director of the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA).

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