California, 60 Years After Brown v. Board

20 May 2014 | Angela Glover Blackwell
California, 60 Years After Brown v. Board

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

As the nation celebrates the 1954 Supreme Court landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, California is confronting its own troubling education reality.

A new report by UCLA's Civil Rights Project, Segregating California's Future: Inequality and its Alternative 60 Years after Brown v. Board of Education, finds that a large majority of Latino and African American students -- who represent the majority of all California students -- are clustered in underfunded, underperforming schools, limiting their educational and life opportunities.

The report documents that racial school segregation is closely tied to economic inequality: in 1993, African American and Latino students attended schools with a disconcerting 52 percent and 58 percent poor children respectively; by 2012, those poverty numbers had increased to a shocking 66 percent and 70 percent.

This means that African American and Latino children today are far more likely than they were a generation ago to attend schools where two-thirds or more of students are poor.

This is more than a moral failure. It is a warning for the state's economic future.

Limiting educational opportunities for California's fastest-growing population -- young students of color -- encumbers the very people we must depend upon to be the business leaders, innovators, and workers of tomorrow.

Last year, Governor Brown and the Legislature recognized that barriers to a quality education must be addressed, and showed vision and leadership in creating a progressive school-financing system called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The LCFF aims to allocate more money to the schools most in need and prioritizes providing resources to schools with students who are low-income, English Learners, or in the foster care system -- largely students of color.

Now the State Board of Education and the Governor must take proactive steps to make sure the formula is implemented quickly and equitably, and that the dollars actually go to schools and students facing the greatest need.

The challenge is this: as the name suggests, the Local Control Funding Formula gives school districts some power to apportion their allotments in a discretionary way, potentially allowing districts to circumvent the LCFF mandate to prioritize under-resourced, underperforming schools in communities of color. For example, some districts have asked for the flexibility to spend state resources on districtwide projects like upgrading computer technology. Such requests must be weighed in light of the needs of priority students, to improve academic performance and achieve fundamental advancements in student development.

The state should mandate that districts first target resources to schools with high populations of low-income, English Learners, or foster care students -- those with the most need -- and institute proven programs that comprehensively address those needs, such as community-school partnerships patterned after the successful Promise Neighborhoods model. This approach incorporates high-quality, coordinated health, social, community and educational support from cradle to college to career. Linked Learning -- academically-rigorous vocational education partnerships that are creating on-ramps to sustainable careers in high-growth, high-value job sectors -- is another effective program that should be considered.

The UCLA report further documents that the most racially segregated and underperforming schools overuse suspensions and expulsions as disciplinary tools, further limiting chances for a high-quality education. Last year, Los Angeles and San Francisco heeded the community and judiciously banned the use of the "willful defiance" standard to suspend or expel students.

In addition to prioritizing LCFF allocated funds to those most in need, California must also enact statewide school discipline policies to end ineffective and unjust school discipline policies. As the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice recently pronounced, policies like willful defiance and zero tolerance are too often enforced in a biased manner. As such, they disproportionately impede the education of African-American and Latino students. Reforms at the state level will help to achieve uniformity across California, allowing more students to stay on track and complete their education.

The State Board of Education and Governor Brown should also ensure school districts use the LCFF to expand implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a comprehensive set of common-sense policies that commits the school to performance goals, including limiting the use of suspensions and expulsions.

Brown is widely recognized as a breakthrough achievement. Unless state leaders step up to fulfill the promise of equal opportunity by investing in students of color, California will dishonor that legacy.

Angela Glover Blackwell is the Founder and CEO of PolicyLink and a member of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.