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Gov. Newsom Signs 46 Bills, Part of $123.9 Billion Education Plan 

During the final week before the October 10 deadline for signing bills passed by the state Legislature this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 46 bills supporting public school and college education.  Under his California Comeback Plan, the state budget invests more than ever before in public schools and colleges. 

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E-learning online education or internet encyclopedia concept. Open laptop and book compilation in a classroom. 3d illustration/ iStock

During the final week before the October 10 deadline for signing bills passed by the state Legislature this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 46 bills supporting public school and college education.  Under his California Comeback Plan, the state budget invests more than ever before in public schools and colleges.

The full plan will cost $123.9 billion.

Newsom turned signing some of the bills into public events. On October 5, he was joined by members of the Legislature and local officials in Fresno for a bill-signing ceremony that celebrated the state’s master plan for early education. The next day, at California State University, Northridge, he led a celebration of the master plan for higher education as he signed a number of bills.

At Sunset elementary school in Fresno, Newsom highlighted the California Comeback Plan’s Pre-K and K-12 education package that includes a framework to achieve universal transitional kindergarten by 2025. The plan reduces class sizes, cutting adult-to-child ratios down from 1 adult for every 24 children to an average of 1 adult for every 12 children.

The plan also invests $1.9 billion to seed college savings accounts beginning in first grade of up to $1,500 for 3.7 million current low-income students, English learners and foster and homeless youth.

“In California, we are committed to transforming our public schools to promote equity, inclusivity and opportunity for every student,” Newsom said before the bill signing commenced.

Among the officials joining Newsom at the Fresno elementary school were Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.

“We know from research and from experience that the early years are critical to support a child’s learning and development. Universal Pre-K is California’s opportunity to ensure every child, regardless of background, race, zip code, immigration status or income level, gets the fair start they need and deserve on their path to success,” said Thurmond.

“I’m here to claim that this governor is the best governor in the history of California for early education,” McCarty told a crowded school library of spectators. “We are launching the largest Pre-K for all program through universal transitional kindergarten in the nation. Thank you, Governor Newsom for your unwavering commitment to our youngest learners.”

At Cal State Northridge, the bills that Newsom signed are designed to increase access to higher education for in-state students who would like to attend a school in the California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) system, create more affordable student housing, particularly for those attending community college, and expand financial aid.

Standing in a gym in front of students, cheerleaders, administrators and state officials, Newsom highlighted his higher education funding plan. According to him, it is the most funding for higher education in California history. The budget has a total funding of $47.1 billion for all higher education entities in 2021-22.

“Californians have thrived at our world class universities for decades, but not everyone has had similar access – today that’s changing. Everyone deserves a shot at the ‘California Dream’ – we’re eliminating equity gaps and increasing opportunities at our universities to make those dreams a reality for more California students,” Newsom said.

McCarty, who was with the governor the day before in Fresno said, “I do want to say that this year was the best year in the history of California, investing in higher education, our UC and CSU and community college system. So, with our governor’s leadership and the Legislature, we were able to pass a budget that fully funds the CSU budget request.” 

He went on to say to applause, “You know what, we’re going to fund an additional 9,000 slots for your little sisters and brothers and cousins to go to CSU.”

On October 8, Newsom completed his education bill signing marathon by signing 22 more bills providing K-12 student mental and behavioral health supports in schools, expanding access to broadband across the state — particularly for those in underserved communities — and providing educational support for students to help boost academic achievement.

Among the bills Newsom signed was AB 101, which was introduced by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside). It requires school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9-12 to offer at least a one semester course in ethnic studies, beginning with the 2025-26 school year. It also requires students, beginning with the graduating class of 2029-30, to complete a one semester course in ethnic studies that meets specified requirements in order to receive a high school diploma.

In his signing statement, Newsom wrote, “Ethnic studies courses enable students to learn their own stories, and those of their classmates, and a number of studies have shown that these courses boost student achievement over the long run – especially among students of color.”

While ethnic studies is already being offered in many large school districts like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno and San Diego Unified, the subject has attracted controversy statewide. The Los Angeles Times opposes the bill, citing that it allows school districts too much flexibility to design their own curricula in conflict with the state’s approved model curriculum. 

Newsom noted in his signing statement, “The legislation provides a number of guardrails to ensure that courses will be free from bias or bigotry and appropriate for all students.”

“At a time when some states are retreating from an accurate discussion of our history, I am proud that California continues to lead in its teaching of ethnic studies,” said Secretary of State Shirley Weber who authored AB 1460, which Newsom signed last year creating an ethnic studies requirement for all CSU colleges for graduation.

Activism

40 MLK Freedom Center Students Study Myth of 1st Thanksgiving, Role of Gratitude in Civil Rights and Social Change

Yolo County’s Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation members partnered with the Oakland-based Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center for its annual ‘Days of Gratitude’ this Thanksgiving weekend in Guinda, CA. From November 26-28, students from the San Francisco Bay Area, Yolo County, Sacramento and Kent and Tacoma, Washington, spent time with Yocha Dehe Language and History Associate, Dillon McKay and Cultural Resources Manager Laverne Bill to learn about the importance of Native Sovereignty and the role of cultural values in American democracy.

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Dillon McKay (in tan shirt wearing blue mask), Laverne Bill (in Blue shirt with abalone shell necklace), Martin Luther King Jr, Freedom Center Executive Director Dr. Roy D. Wilson (in black jacket and blue mask) with Freedom Center students.
Dillon McKay (in tan shirt wearing blue mask), Laverne Bill (in Blue shirt with abalone shell necklace), Martin Luther King Jr, Freedom Center Executive Director Dr. Roy D. Wilson (in black jacket and blue mask) with Freedom Center students.

3-Day Intensive with members of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation called Days of Gratitude

By Scott Horton, communications manager for the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center

While many Americans took a long weekend after enjoying a day and a meal with family and friends, 40 high school students got together to dig deep into understanding the myth of the Thanksgiving story and learn the truth about Native American history and culture from members of Yolo County’s Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

Yocha Dehe members partnered with the Oakland-based Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center for its annual ‘Days of Gratitude’ this Thanksgiving weekend in Guinda, CA. From November 26-28, students from the San Francisco Bay Area, Yolo County, Sacramento and Kent and Tacoma, Washington, spent time with Yocha Dehe Language and History Associate, Dillon McKay and Cultural Resources Manager Laverne Bill to learn about the importance of Native Sovereignty and the role of cultural values in American democracy.

McKay and Bill spoke to the group about many aspects of Yocha Dehe culture, including preservation of its language and oral history, governance, dance, food and agriculture, cultural resources/archaeological sites and the roles of tribal members in community.

Dillon emphasized that, “Our cultures may be diverse, but we share values. We all have one thing in common: we all want to make this a better place.”

Bill added, “We’re no longer living in a world where we are isolated from each other based on our color or our culture—we’re are evolving from that–and people need to understand each other. Your family and your community raised you to be who you are and to express yourself through your culture and heritage.”

The Freedom Center’s dynamic ‘Days of Gratitude’ course accomplishes three significant goals. First, students, staff and community members study the history of “Thanksgiving,” deconstructing false narratives. Secondly, the group studies Native Sovereignty and self-government. Thirdly, participants dig deep into the psychological, political, economic and cultural value of gratitude and particularly its fundamental role in the Civil Rights Movement and in making positive social change.

“We are honored, humbled and deeply grateful to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and to Dillon McKay and Laverne Bill,” said Dr. Roy Wilson, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center. “They generously shared their cultures, histories, traditions and explained the concept of native sovereignty and self-governance. We have much to learn as a democracy from their generational examples of sovereignty, community and civic engagement.”

In addition to spending November 26 with McKay and Bill, the students and staff studied the role of gratitude as a fundamental principle of self-transformation, and civic engagement as part of traditions of nonviolent social change and civil rights.

For more information about the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, visit www.mlkfreedomcenter.org.

Scott Horton is the communications manager for the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.

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Activism

IN MEMORIAM: Robert Farris Thompson, Renowned Professor of African American Studies

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993).

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Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.
Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.

TRIBUTE

By John Santos

We’ve lost a Rosetta Stone.

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson passed in his sleep Monday morning due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease and having been weakened by a bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the year. He would’ve completed his 89th year on December 30.

Born on Dec. 30, 1932, Thompson was a White Texan who spectacularly disproved the fallacy of White supremacy through his pioneering and tireless elevation and clarification of African art, philosophy and culture. He removed the blinders and changed the way that generations of international students see African art.

A U.S. Army veteran, he went to Yale on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in 1955. He joined the faculty in 1964 and earned his Ph.D. in 1965. He remained on the faculty until 2015.

‘Master T,’ as his students and friends often referred to him, was the Col. John Trumbull professor of the History of Art and professor of African American Studies at Yale University.

Thompson was also an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He curated game-changing national exhibitions such as “African Art in Motion,” “The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds,” and “Faces of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas.” The latter had a run at U.C. Berkeley in 1995 when local practitioners of African spirituality and musicians — including myself – demonstrated the powerful knowledge of tradition.

Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993). If he did not coin, he certainly standardized the term ‘Black Atlantic.’ He was a brilliant presenter, writer and teacher. But unlike many if not most academicians, he was also loved, revered and respected by the musicians, artists and communities about whom he wrote.

Initiated in Africa to Erinle, the deity of deep, still water, Thompson was hip, quirky and totally immersed in African and African-based music, dance, language, art and history. His lifetime of research, immersion and visionary work formed a bridge between Black America and her African roots.

Countless trips to Africa, the Southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central and South America informed his passionate work. He wrote about sculpture, painting, architecture, dance, music, language, poetry, food, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, African history, stolen antiquities, African spirituality, African retention, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Black Argentina, New York, México, mambo, tango, jazz, spirit possession and so much more. He recorded African drumming. He befriended giants of African diaspora music such as Julito Collazo, Babatunde Olatunji and Mongo Santamaría.

I first saw his writing around 1970 on the back of the classic red vinyl 1961 Mongo Santamaria LP, Arriba! La Pachanga (Fantasy 3324). They are inarguably among the deepest liner notes ever written.

He told me that he used our 1984 recording, Bárbara Milagrosa, by the Orquesta Batachanga, to demonstrate danzón-mambo to his students. I nearly burst into tears when he invited me and Omar Sosa to address and perform for his students at Yale, his alma mater, where he was a rock star. It was an unforgettable occasion for me.

He wrote wonderful liner notes on our 2002 Grammy-nominated production SF Bay, by the Machete Ensemble. He went out of his way to support and encourage countless students and followers like me. I was highly honored to count him as a friend as well as mentor.

He will be missed.

John Santos is a seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and former director of Orquesta Batachanga and Machete Ensemble and current director of the John Santos Sextet.

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Activism

School District Faces Hostile Takeover by State Overseers

The Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) told Oakland Unified School District officials that they must cut the budget by $90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient steps by the end of January – to withhold the salaries of the school board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a November 8 letter to the district from ACOE Supt. L. Karen Monroe.

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The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.
The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.

Takeover threat immediately follows district’s decision to halt school closings

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District officials were caught by surprise recently when they heard from the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which previously was working closely with OUSD, that the county had taken a dramatic step seemingly out of the blue, invoking an official “Lack of going concern” ruing on the district.

The ACOE told OUSD that they must cut the budget by $90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient steps by the end of January – to withhold the salaries of the school board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a November 8 letter to the district from ACOE Supt. L. Karen Monroe.

Some school board members and school advocates see this threat of takeover by ACOE and FCMAT as retaliation and possibly an attempt to reverse a recent action by the board and Trammell-Johnson passing a resolution with wide community support to reject state pressure to close neighborhood schools.

With only five days to challenge the county’s ruling, school board members – with the backing of the superintendent and top administrators – voted unanimously at a special meeting on Saturday, November 13 to appeal the ‘lack of going concern’ determination to State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who this week announced he has sided with the county.

The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.

At that time, the state placed a receiver and FCMAT in charge of OUSD and forced the district to accept a $100 million loan it did not need, and proceeded to unilaterally spend the windfall on their pet projects. OUSD is still paying off that loan. Also, the superintendent was fired, and the authority of the school board suspended.

Under state guidance, the district has closed about 20 schools, mostly in Black and Latinx flatland schools, with the direct encouragement of FCMAT, even though FCMAT has recognized that closing schools does not save money.

Under the leadership of FCMAT and the county since 2003, the district has faced almost continual budget cuts, has stayed in debt and has relied on a revolving door of privatizing administrators and consultants, many who appear to pass through Oakland as a career steppingstone.

According to Monroe’s letter, which has been challenged by the district, OUSD was doing fine this year, and its budget for 2021-2022 was approved. “However, due to the significant level of budgetary reliance on one-time revenue sources and the lack of adequate assurances that fiscal solvency is certain in future years, it has been determined that the district is a Lack of Going Concern with its budget approval.”

Monroe’s letter said the district must “implement $90 million in required reductions within a timely manner.” She also said the county will “withhold compensation of the members of the governing of the school district and the school district superintendent for failure to provide requested financial information,” though the district says it has worked closely with the county and has withheld no information.

Following FCMAT’s “recommendations” would not be optional. “The school district shall follow the recommendations of the (FCMAT) team, unless the school district shows good cause for failure to do so,” the letter said.

The district’s relationship with its overlords at the ACOE and FCMAT seemed to have gone south soon after the school board and administration decided on October 27 that it would no longer give in to state pressure to close more schools in coming years. Before the decision, the state trustee threatened to reverse the board decision if it passed but did nothing when they passed it anyway.

“Karen Monroe for five years has had oversight over every budget, and she approved the budgets,” Boardmember Mike Hutchinson told the Oakland Post. “She is the one who has had oversight. Whose responsibility is this?” He asked.

The district has been working closely with the county and is in better fiscal shape than it has been in years, said Hutchinson “What is new, besides the district’s decision not to close more schools?”

President of the Oakland teachers’ union Keith Brown told the Oakland Post, “We’re opposed to (Supt.) Monroe’s actions. We feel that imposing FCMAT on Oakland would be damaging to our community and our schools.”

While many school advocates strongly criticize the district for its bureaucratic, top-down management and lack of accountability in making budget decisions, they oppose this threatened takeover for a variety of reasons:

  • The imposition of FCMAT on OUSD constitutes the suspension of voters’ right to choose their representatives and is a violation of Oakland residents’ democratic rights of self-government.
  • The county is demanding $90 million in budget reductions. How did this happen under the county’s watch? How can $90 million be cut and still have a school district that exists in any recognizable form?
  • The county says school enrollment has declined but failed to acknowledge the pandemic has anything to do with it. The county complains the district has relied on one-time spending, but isn’t that what federal pandemic funds were for?
  • FCMAT and the county have been working closely with OUSD for years, but now they say they failed. Why is the solution to turn total control over to them?
  • There is at least the appearance that the threat to withhold leaders’ salaries and impose FCMAT is in part retaliation for the district decision to stop closing more schools, which is the democratic right of local representatives.

Responding to Oakland Post questions, Monroe said, “Decision-making in Oakland Unified lies with the members of the Board of Education that have been elected by the Oakland community, so I am perplexed by any reference to a violation of the democratic rights of Oakland voters.

“The work to be done by FCMAT does not constitute any replacement of OUSD’s governance structure and is spelled out clearly in Education Code. It is limited in scope and does not usurp or compromise the Board’s local control,” she said. More of her responses will be printed in the next Oakland Post edition.

L. Karen Monroe’s letter to OUSD is available at:

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9962661&GUID=ADEF97D5-0DD4-44CF-99E2-C31AF83C734E

OUSD’ appeal letter to Tony Thurmond is available at

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9963018&GUID=7E877777-AF0C-4211-ABE3-D38E9F2FB20E

Boardmember Hutchinson urged people to call Tony Thurmond and Supt. Monroe and to sign a petition available online at https://bit.ly/3xJRc6K

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