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Is Proposition 209 in the Way of Newsom’s Effort to Close the African American Student Achievement Gap?

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In January when Governor Newsom briefed Californians on his 2020-21 Budget, he said the state’s investment in K-12 education was making progress, but described the progress as “stubborn and slow.”

“Where we are not seeing progress is for African Americans.” African American students score below the state standard in English language and math tests.

According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, “It seems self-evident that we should focus and concentrate our efforts in those areas in order to address … the substance of the vexing issue as it relates to academic achievement for our African American students.”

To close the Black student achievement gap Newsom talked about plans to build a diverse teaching workforce of stable prepared professional teachers including more teachers that look like their students. “That’s incredibly important as related particularly to African American achievement.”

He announced $900.1 million was being proposed to be invested in workforce investment grants, professional development grants for existing teachers, and teacher recruitment strategies. But, a few weeks after his budget briefing, the Department of Finance released the “omnibus education trailer bill” detailing Newsom’s education funding proposals and there was no specific funding designated to help African American students or any reference to sourcing more African American teachers.

Last week, the Legislature began its review of the education budget. In advance of the hearings, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) issued a report assessing the governor’s proposals for K-12 education. Many of the initiatives fail to align with the state’s existing efforts to address achievement gaps and enhance the education workforce.

Consequently, LAO recommended that the Legislature reject most of the governor’s proposals and use the $1 billion in freed-up funding to provide fiscal relief to school districts. They proposed that the funds be used for additional payments toward districts’ unfunded pension liabilities.

Hearings held by the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 2 on Education Finance chaired by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D- Sacramento)  on March 4 and Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee No. 1 on Education Finance chaired by Senator Richard Roth (D-Riverside) on March 5 didn’t explore how Newsom’s proposals could be amended to address LAO’s concerns and achieve the governor’s objectives.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was invited to speak at the Legislative hearings.

Expressing support for the budget, Thurmond said, “We really appreciated that when the governor laid out his budget proposal in January, he spoke directly to the need to close the achievement gap, he spoke directly to the needs to creating recruitment and retention designs that will help us to attract a more diverse workforce and close the gap.”

Not specifying funding targeting help for African American students could be attributed to concerns about violating Proposition 209. This initiative voted by the people in 1996 prohibits state governmental institutions from considering race in public education.

If Prop 209 is an impediment to approving funds to close the achievement gap for African American students, then Newsom has a chance to work with the Legislature on passing ACA 5, the California Act for Economic Prosperity, to repeal Proposition 209  and convincing California voters to approve it.

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