By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Dr. Margaret Fortune, founder of Fortune School of Education, testified as an educational expert witness at the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans’ two-day meeting held in Sacramento on March 3-4.
One of only two influential Sacramentans who appeared in front of the nine-member panel, Fortune thanked the members who supported “race-neutral” legislation, she said, Fortune Fortune School co-sponsored.
The bill, Assembly Bill 2774, would generate more than $400 million for an estimated 785 public school districts across the state to provide critically needed academic support for Black students.
During her testimony, Fortune said AB 2774 soared through the legislature with tremendous support until it was reported that Gov. Gavin Newsom, who initially supported the bill, backed off when the issue of race-based group funding would run afoul of a state constitutional amendment, Proposition 209, which bans race-based preferencing.
“That begins to sound in my ears like discrimination,” Fortune said of the policy that doesn’t support the needs of Black students. “If the entire legislature, on a bipartisan basis, passes the bill but the administration stands in the way, I have to ask some questions about that.”
As a qualifier, Newsom added the “Alternative Equity Multiplier” in his 2023-24 proposed state budget. It sets aside $300 million for extremely low-income students at the lowest-income schools.
Fortune said the funding will reach only about 25% of students with special needs. The state Department of Education stated that there were just less than 299,000 (5.7%) Black students attending public schools among enrollment of 5,892,240. Overall, 67% of Black kids can’t read at grade level in public schools, Fortune explained.
Fortune said that the Black in School Coalition, established in 2022 during the introduction of AB 2774, sent Newsom a recommendation asking to fund any student group that exhibits performance levels worse than state average. Black students are near the bottom in most categories, she said.
The Black in School Coalition is a statewide advocacy body consisting of organizations from all parts of the education community including teachers, administrators, local school district and county board of education trustees, parents, and civil rights and faith groups.
“With this construct, the Black In School Coalition, which includes 16 civil rights organizations and education advocates, has presented a proposal to the governor to say ‘90% of these resources of the $300 million should go to the 81,000 unfunded Black students.’”
Task force member Don Tamaki, a Bay Area attorney and the only non-Black panel member, said he understands the barriers Prop. 209 presents and that there should be “more input” from Fortune in addressing the needs of the state’s low-performing Black students.
“Obviously, [Prop. 209] was created by hate and racism and now you can’t consider race to fix it,” Tamaki said.
Fortune was basically the only authoritative member of the Sacramento Black community who participated, let alone showed up at the two-day meeting in CalEPA’s Byron Sher Auditorium.
Many individuals and groups from Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area occupied nearly all the auditorium’s seats.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg was the other authoritative figure from the region to appear at the meeting. Steinberg, who attended the second day of the meeting, updated the nine-member panel about the city government’s activities.
Steinberg is one of 11 mayors who pledged to pay reparations for slavery to a small group of Black residents in their cities.
Similar to efforts in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Richmond, Sacramento focused on developing a municipal reparations initiative through the city’s ongoing Sacramento Centered On Racial Equity (SCORE) initiative.
Kelly Fong Rivas, the City of Sacramento’s first racial equity advisor, attended both days. Fong-Rivas has been to many local reparations meetings held in the last 18 months.
“If government should stand for anything it should stand for investing in communities and people who have been the victims of discrimination and disenfranchisement for far too long,” Steinberg told the task force. “Most important to my community, as your mayor I am sorry and I am humbled to work alongside all of you to repair our city’s history of harm, together.”
The task force decided to hold its 14th meeting in Sacramento at month’s end. The date and location have yet to be determined.