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OP-ED: As California Faces Dramatic Student Enrollment Decline, Officials Seek to Stabilize School Funding

The pandemic has severely impacted student attendance. Unfortunately, it has become common for parents to receive notices from school saying their child has been exposed to COVID-19. Some parents are opting to keep their children home which is beginning to cause a sharp increase in chronic absenteeism in schools.

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Margaret Fortune is president and CEO of Fortune School of Education.
Dr. Margaret Fortune is the President/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Looming Funding Cuts Worry Schools

LET’S TALK BLACK EDUCATION

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO of Fortune School

Schools have become an extension of the public health system in California’s response to COVID-19.

As the leader of a public school system, I can tell you we have become masters of administering weekly COVID-19 tests to thousands of students and teachers, hosting vaccination clinics, and doing contact tracing. It’s a lot of pressure.

Meanwhile, student enrollment is dropping dramatically across the state. To put it in context, student enrollment was already in steady decline before the pandemic because of low birth rates and migration.

In the 2018-19 school year, student enrollment in California fell by 23,000 students. Last school year in 2020-21, California schools lost 160,000 students, nearly seven times the figure two years ago.

The pandemic has severely impacted student attendance. Unfortunately, it has become common for parents to receive notices from school saying their child has been exposed to COVID-19. Some parents are opting to keep their children home which is beginning to cause a sharp increase in chronic absenteeism in schools.

This is a huge problem for California public schools, because they rely on students’ average daily attendance for their state funding. In a year when California is expecting to have a $29 billion budget surplus, it’s imperative that elected officials give the state’s children the first call on the treasury by making school funding stable.

Senator Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, has a good idea to ensure predictable public school funding. SB 579 (Allen) would hold schools harmless from drops in enrollment for this school year and next.

This bill is on a fast track. It sailed through the Senate (37-0) and as of the writing of this column is in the Assembly. We applaud Senator Allen for his amendment to include public charter schools in the bill as well.

Funding for school districts has always been protected from drops in student enrollment from year to year, but not for public charter schools. Senator Allen’s bold action will keep all schools “whole” during a time when we are experiencing the traumatic impact of the pandemic.

SB 830 introduced by Senator Anthony Portantino, a Democrat representing the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, is another piece of legislation that deals with how schools are funded.

This bill proposes that the California Department of Education stop funding schools based on average daily attendance and instead provide funding according to a school’s enrollment numbers.

California’s policy to fund schools based on average daily attendance made sense before we were in a pandemic.

Now that public health officials are advising schools to require that parents keep their children at home if they are symptomatic, the rules about funding schools based on attendance must change with the times.

The problem is SB 830 (Portantino) excludes public charter schools from the fix. That means 690,657 of California’s public-school children would be left behind in the old funding scheme.

That is unacceptable. It’s particularly problematic for Black students because their parents are more likely to choose public charter schools than other ethnic groups.

That means that these students would be funded at a lower level than their counterparts in school districts. Senator Portantino should amend SB 830 to include public charter schools, so the bill is helpful to all of California’s public-school children.

As we continue to navigate through a pandemic where the state’s response is heavily reliant on using a child’s school as the delivery system for education and public health, one lesson is abundantly clear: If we want schools to stay open, lawmakers must stabilize funding for all public schools — including charters. In a state that has a surplus of funding, it is critical that our elected officials prioritize fully funding all schools to protect us from further feeling the impact of the pandemic.

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the President/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Activism

Juneteenth Father’s Day for the Formerly Incarcerated

The giveaway was a testament of the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back to the community in the best way they could. Participants received an array of gifts including clothing, work pants, jeans, socks, toiletries and gift cards. The event gave them a place to identify with other men who have overcome many hardships and now live independently of the direct supervision of the criminal justice system.

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From left to right: Dora Parlor, Richard Johnson and Ayanna Weathers. Photo by Jonathan ‘fitness’ Jones.
From left to right: Dora Parlor, Richard Johnson and Ayanna Weathers. Photo by Jonathan ‘fitness’ Jones.

By Richard Johnson

The founders of The Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back organization sponsored a Father’s Day celebration event that highlighted a “just serve spirit” which recognized dads who want to “give and serve” their families and communities, that reached over 150 men in deep East Oakland. Fathers from all walks of life, languages and nationalities were in attendance.

The giveaway was a testament of the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back to the community in the best way they could. Participants received an array of gifts including clothing, work pants, jeans, socks, toiletries and gift cards. The event gave them a place to identify with other men who have overcome many hardships and now live independently of the direct supervision of the criminal justice system.

The celebration was co-sponsored by several organizations, including the African American Sports and Entertainment Group, (AASEG) headed by Ray Bobbitt, B.O.S.S. Reentry program, and the Reentry, The Post News Group and Violence Prevention programs directed by John Jones III.

The participating fathers were offered counseling and services to cover back rent, rental deposit, utility bills, credit repair and much more.

As fate would have it, one of the Founders of Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back, Mr. Paul Redd, was called home by the Lord. His passing came on Father’s Day. We could never question God’s work when He calls His flock home. Paul will be greatly missed by many who loved, appreciated and respected him greatly. We, the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back, gave back in our experience our profound condolences to the family. We will certainly continue the work that he helped to establish. Rest in Peace my brother.

To utilize the services of BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency), please contact John Jones at 510-459-9014. For more information on this activity and future activities, please contact Richard Johnson at fatijohns28@gmail.com.

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Activism

Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties Partner to Create Cleaner Coast

California Coastal beaches and public parks are experiencing rises in visitation year over year as important outlets for mental and physical health. Over 10 million people annually visit the California coastline and adjacent communities across Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. Even more staggering, over 55,000 pounds of trash were picked up from the sensitive coastal environment across the three counties last year alone.

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“Leave No Trace is thrilled to be working with Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties,” said Dana Watts, executive director of Leave No Trace. “With such diverse natural and cultural resources, we look forward to addressing the key issues in the area. Consistent messaging is crucial because there is no differentiation from visitors on what county they are in when they visit the coastline.”
“Leave No Trace is thrilled to be working with Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties,” said Dana Watts, executive director of Leave No Trace. “With such diverse natural and cultural resources, we look forward to addressing the key issues in the area. Consistent messaging is crucial because there is no differentiation from visitors on what county they are in when they visit the coastline.”

The Goal: Teach leave no trace practices to growing number of coastal visitors

Courtesy of Marin County

Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties are launching a coordinated campaign to provide visitor education and outreach to reduce the amount of litter and waste in coastal regions and watersheds through a three-County memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the non-profit organization Leave No Trace. The ongoing partnership includes coordination with federal and state agencies, tribal partners, local jurisdictions and land managers, Sonoma County Tourism, and other community-based groups across all three counties.

Beginning later this month, the bilingual campaign will include a broad scope of messaging that will be used by all three counties to educate and influence visitors prior to and during the summer season. Agencies and organizations partnering with the campaign will be able to share the Leave No Trace-based messaging resources in English and Spanish and take advantage of a new stewardship education series, both of which specifically address visitation impact issues taking place along the California coastline.

California Coastal beaches and public parks are experiencing rises in visitation year over year as important outlets for mental and physical health. Over 10 million people annually visit the California coastline and adjacent communities across Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. Even more staggering, over 55,000 pounds of trash were picked up from the sensitive coastal environment across the three counties last year alone.

“COVID-19 pushed more residents outdoors and drew them to the coast as they looked for safe ways to recreate,” said Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, who initiated the three-County collaboration in 2020. “This stressed our limited visitor-serving infrastructure, creating an overflow of trash and waste like I have never seen before.”

Sonoma County Tourism, the county’s destination stewardship organization, was instrumental in bringing the Leave No Trace organization into the partnership conversation with the three counties. Sonoma County Tourism has worked with Leave No Trace since April 2021 on the Sonoma County Leave No Trace Initiative.

Through its Seven Principles, Leave No Trace provides a framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors. New education messaging focusing on trash and litter in coastal watersheds is highly relevant due to a surge in visitation to all three counties’ coastlines and adjacent communities. The new education messaging serves to complement existing Leave No Trace and other trash reduction efforts promoted by state, county and local parks officials in all three counties, as well as the Sonoma County Leave No Trace Initiative.

“We had a bit of a head start with the successful launch of our Leave No Trace campaign last year, and we are happy to leverage and coordinate our efforts with our neighbors from the north and south,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “Visitors don’t stop at county lines, nor does the flow of trash.”

Trash causes major impacts on our enjoyment of creeks, bays and the ocean, and creates significant impacts on aquatic life and habitat in those waters; trash eventually enters the global ocean ecosystem, where plastic persists in the environment for hundreds of years – if not forever.

“We don’t have the resources to launch this effort on our own,” Mendocino County Supervisor Ted Williams noted, “But with the support from our southern neighbors and non-profit partnerships with groups like MendoParks, we are excited to launch this campaign.” Fellow Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Gjerde added, “The key to moving this effort forward was the unanimous decision for all three counties to use a shared MOU and contract with Leave No Trace. We look forward to working together for years to come.”

“Leave No Trace is thrilled to be working with Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties,” said Dana Watts, executive director of Leave No Trace. “With such diverse natural and cultural resources, we look forward to addressing the key issues in the area. Consistent messaging is crucial because there is no differentiation from visitors on what county they are in when they visit the coastline.”

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Activism

Juneteenth ’22: California Legislature Recognizes Reparations Task Force

“The task force, without a doubt, is probably one of the most important task forces not only in the state, but this nation, dealing with the horrors of slavery,” said Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC). “This task force is a reflection of California’s leadership and progressive nature that made a commitment to help bridge racial division and advance equity.”

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While honored by the California Legislature, the California Task Force for Reparations members presented the 483-page, Interim Report to lawmakers of the California Legislature Black Caucus. Shown from left to right are attorney Don Tamaki, Senator Maria Elena Durazo, Assemblywoman Lori Wilson, Sen. Steven Bradford, Sen. Sydney Kamlager, attorney Lisa Holder, Dr. Cheryl Grills, Dr. Rev. Amos Brown, attorney Kamilah Moore, Sen. Nancy Skinner, and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer. CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.
While honored by the California Legislature, the California Task Force for Reparations members presented the 483-page, Interim Report to lawmakers of the California Legislature Black Caucus. Shown from left to right are attorney Don Tamaki, Senator Maria Elena Durazo, Assemblywoman Lori Wilson, Sen. Steven Bradford, Sen. Sydney Kamlager, attorney Lisa Holder, Dr. Cheryl Grills, Dr. Rev. Amos Brown, attorney Kamilah Moore, Sen. Nancy Skinner, and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer. CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.

By Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌, California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media

Several members of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans received a standing ovation from constituents of the State Legislature last week for their work over the last 12 months.

During the opening of legislative sessions at the State Capitol in Sacramento on June 16, members of the Senate and Assembly participated in the gesture that coincided with the kickoff of the state’s official Juneteenth 2022 commemorations.

“The task force, without a doubt, is probably one of the most important task forces not only in the state, but this nation, dealing with the horrors of slavery,” said Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC). “This task force is a reflection of California’s leadership and progressive nature that made a commitment to help bridge racial division and advance equity.”

Bradford, who was appointed to the task force by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, made his remarks on the Senate floor after fellow task force panelist Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) delivered similar comments in the Assembly chambers.

Seven of the nine task force members and staff from the California Department of Justice (DOJ) were recognized at the event.

Task force members attending the ceremony were Chairperson Kamilah V. Moore, a Los Angeles-based attorney, reparations scholar and activist; Vice Chairman Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights leader and respected Bay Area pastor whose journey to leadership started under the tutelage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s; Dr. Cheryl Grills, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Lisa Holder, a nationally recognized trial attorney.

Attorney Don Tamaki, Esq., an attorney best known for his role in the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States and the only non-Black member of the panel, was also in attendance.

Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon met briefly with the panel.

Task force members Monica Montgomery Steppe, a San Diego Councilmember and Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis, chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley, could not make the trip due to prior commitments.

Several members of the CLBC attended the function, which coincided with the passage of resolution in recognition of the Juneteenth holiday in the Assembly.

Assemblymembers Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), Mia Bonta (D-Alameda), Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), Akila Weber (D-La Mesa), Mike Gipson (D-Carson) and CLBC vice-chair Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) showed up to support the task force members’ efforts.

The Task Force first convened on June 1, 2021, to conduct an examination of the lasting consequences of discrimination against freed slaves and their descendants.

Under Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, authored by then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who is currently Secretary of State of California, the nine-member panel is charged with making recommendations for how the state can compensate Black Californians who are descendants of enslaved African Americans.

On June 1, the task force released its first interim report, a 483-page document compiled by the California Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section.

“The information in the interim report reveals uncovered facts about incidents that disproportionately and negatively affected Black Californians in California for 170-plus years and the country for the last 400 years,” Grills said.

“Until we have a reckoning with the truth, we cannot understand who we are as a nation. When we then begin to have that kind of reckoning, I think the specific manifestation of the harm will be easier to deal with and we will actually have an opportunity for transformative change,” Grills continued.

Over the next 12 months, Moore told California Black Media (CBM) that the task force will focus on bringing increased awareness for the interim report, community engagement, and formulating a framework of how California should compensate around 2 to 2.6 million Black Californians.

“It’s important that the California Legislature understand how important this effort is,” Moore told CBM. “This past year we’ve been working incredibly hard. The next (12 months) I categorized it as the development stage where the nine-member task force has substantive and intentional conversations about what reparations should look like.”

Video link of Sen. Steven Bradford and Dr. Cheryl Grills at the state capitol in Sacramento:  .California Task Force For Reparations at State Capitol 6.16.2022

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