OPINION (CBM) – Last August, a bill was headed to the Governor’s desk that would have helped Black students across the state with additional resources they need in school. However, the author, Assemblymember Akilah Weber pulled the bill – Assembly Bill 2774 – with a promise by Governor Gavin Newsom to stakeholders, including our Black in School Coalition, to address the issue in this January budget.
However, months later, there had been no communication from Governor Newsom’s office to our Black in School Coalition about how to address the pervasive crisis in Black student achievement in our schools. Based on our one and only 11th hour meeting with his senior staff last week, where they mostly addressed their legal fears, we have serious questions about the Governor’s commitment to Black students. On the eve of the January budget release, we want to remind Gavin Newsom of his promise.
The serious issue that needs to be addressed is that over the past few decades, Black students have been the lowest performing students in the state with 70% not meeting the English Language Arts standards and 80% not meeting math standards.
This is why I, as legal counsel for the Alpha Community Education Initiative (ACEI) and as legal counsel to the Alpha Phi Alpha Inc. Western Region Vice President for Educational Affairs, have joined the Black in School Coalition to advocate for equity in schools. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is the nation’s oldest college fraternity founded by African American men and includes luminary members such as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell, Willie Brown, and Ronald Dellums. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s Western Region represents 13 states. We are keeping a watchful eye on how Governor Newsom and state leaders treat California’s Black students and address the significant achievement gap.
As a part of the Black in School coalition, we advocated and supported the passage of last year’s Assembly Bill 2774 by Assemblymember Weber to close the gap and bring forward more equity.
Assembly Bill 2774 would have fixed a fundamental flaw in the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) by creating a new supplemental grant of about $400 million a year for California’s lowest-performing subgroup of students not receiving funding. This subgroup for the last decade has been Black students regardless of income. Currently, under the LCFF the state exclusively identifies English Language Learners, low-income students, and foster/homeless youth as its highest needs students and provides them additional funding.
When the Governor persuaded Assemblymember Weber to pull AB 2774, we had been told it was because the Administration believed the measure violated Proposition 209, which bans Affirmative Action in California. Now, the Administration says Proposition 209 isn’t the issue. Instead, the Administration has raised the specter that they would have to go to court to defend AB 2774 against litigation from conservative groups who may make an argument related to Equal Protection under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. I take the staff’s fears to be a “boogeyman,” of sorts. It is worth noting that there was no conservative opposition to AB 2774. Anyone familiar with Governor Newsom knows that he has never shied away from the risk of being sued. He famously challenged the Supreme Court on gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose. So why won’t he defend the rights of Black students?
When we look at the Administration’s equal protection fears, we believe the state can demonstrate that the law proposed in AB 2774 is necessary to achieve a compelling state interest, and it is narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest of providing assistance and funding to a group of children who are the lowest performing subgroup. In addition, there is a further compelling interest that is the interruption of the “school to prison pipeline” that many of our children face, which AB 2774 could help alleviate.
We need our leaders to lead like Thurgood Marshall did when he challenged the Topeka (Kansas) School District in Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954. Thurgood Marshall wasn’t scared of the then “separate but equal” state of the law, he had the boldness and vision to argue and fight for what was right.
We need that same courage from our elected officials now especially if, like Governor Newsom, they have their eyes set on the White House.
By Cary L. Lackey, Esq., Legal Counsel for Alpha Community Education Initiative