On third try, California lawmakers push bill to steer extra money to under-performing schools

Hayne Palmour IV/AP

California lawmakers are trying again to steer extra money to schools with low-academic performance, particularly aiming to provide better educational opportunities for Black students.

This legislation, Assembly Bill 2774, would adjust California’s education funding formula to require additional support for demographic groups of students who under-perform on statewide tests.

Generally, four subgroups of students have not tested at the statewide average: low-income students, fostered or homeless youth, second-language English learners, and Black students.

All subgroups previously have received received extra resources through the state’s education-funding formula, except for Black students.

The bill would direct $400 million per year in additional funding to support the lowest-performing demographic group, which today is Black students.

The bill faces a key hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday. Two previous versions of the bill failed in 2019 and 2020.

This year, the effort has more momentum. It cleared the Assembly earlier this year on a 75-0 vote.

“This is the third time the state has been requested to look at that lowest performing subgroup (Black students) and provide them more resources and funding so that they can achieve academically like every other student here in California,” said Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, D-San Diego. “Every time there’s always been a reason why they can’t do it or a barrier that’s put up.”

In 2019, statewide testing data showed Black students in California are the lowest-performing subgroup with 67% not meeting English and Language Arts standards and 79% not meeting math standards.

For the last two decades, Black students have academically been the lowest performing subgroup according to statewide testing data.

“We have been failing Black kids for years,” said Weber. “No one should bring that to the state, it should be something that the state has recognized and wants to fix on its own because you want the best for the kids.”

California’s budget surged over the past two year with unprecedented surpluses amounting to tens of billions of dollars in new revenue. Newsom in July signed a $308 billion state spending plan, with $128.6 billion in K-12 funding. Just three years ago, the state K-12 budget amounted to $103 billion.

California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and many other educators, students and faith leaders are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to support the legislation.

Achievement gap

Thurmond said that the bill would help to close the achievement gap by providing additional resources to address issues that generally plague communities of Black students.

“Research tells us that we have to recruit more educators of color and we have to provide professional development. We have to provide resources to help our families overcome poverty, community violence, health disparities and transportation issues and just being pushed out of communities where they can’t afford to live,” said Thurmond.

Among other vocal supporters is Sacramento native and San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman, Arik Armstead.

His nonprofit organization, Armstead Academic Project, works to promote access to a quality education, no matter their socioeconomic status.

“I’m passionate about it,” said Armstead. “My nonprofit has worked in this space for years now and a lot of the students I worked with would directly benefit from this bill as well, along with a lot of other students in California which need it desperately.”

Armstead recognizes that Black students have struggled due to a lack of resources and lack of funding.

‘Nurture over nature’ in California schools

He said a bill like this would bring equity to education and really start to serve and provide those resources that have been denied from students for this long.

“I believe in nurture over nature. I don’t believe that people are born less than. There’s a reason why Black students aren’t performing in our state and we’re trying to address that, and I think this bill will go a long way to addressing that.”

The bill is also supported by its co-sponsors Fortune School of Education, Elite Public Schools, A Black Education Network, National Action Network, Western Region (Co-Sponsor), National Action Network (Sacramento), NAACP California Hawaii, NAACP San Bernardino, Alpha Community Education Initiative, National Coalition of 100 Black Women Sacramento, and Black Students of California United.

Other supporters include the California State Parent Teacher Association, California Alliance of Child and Family Services, Los Angeles County Office of Education, Education Trust-West, Trustee Bina Lefkowitz, Sacramento County Board of Education; International Faith-Based Coalition and Sacramento County Board of Education.