Known as the “Golden State,” and indeed, as the center of agricultural production, the technology industry, and the entertainment industry, it’s no wonder California is poised to become the world’s fourth-largest economy. That the prosperity of the United States is irrevocably linked to the prosperity of California is so well known that politicians, legislators and pundits from coast to coast are familiar with the adage: “As goes California, so goes the nation.”
But if you think California’s black students are getting the education they need to be part of such a global economic powerhouse, think again.
Black students are the lowest achieving student subgroup in nearly every county in California. This has been a well-known and reported problem for decades, and countless proposed solutions have been sought to fix it.
One of the latest comes in the form of the Equity Multiplier in the proposed 2023-24 state budget, and if the idea spreads across the country, Black children in states other than California could continue to be deprived of the education they deserve.
What is the equity multiplier?
The Equity Multiplier is a proposal by the Governor of California to address a piece of legislation that stalled during the 2022 California legislative session and aims to improve the academic achievement of African-American students, who lag significantly behind other student groups, regardless of your wealth or income. This measure, AB 2774, created by Assemblywoman Dr. Akilah Weber, would have changed the state’s school funding formula by directing resources to school districts based on the lowest-performing subgroup of students. Under that measure, this would direct resources to support black students.
As an alternative to AB 2774, the Governor has proposed the Equity Multiplier, which allocates money based on high concentrations of students living in poverty rather than the specific needs of students. Therefore, allowing funds to flow to the schools that students attend rather than to the districts. The intent of this legislation is to focus on improving student outcomes in specific schools and prevent districts from diluting support by spending for district-wide purposes.
Why did the state decide we need this? Well, in part, this is a response to criticism of California’s school finance system called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Reviews by both the Public Policy Institute and the California State Auditor have expressed that it is extremely difficult to determine whether districts are currently spending designated resources on the students who generate them. The LCFF aims to specifically increase and improve services for low-income students, English learners, and youth in the foster care system (also known as supplemental and concentration grant funding).
As an example, the California State Auditor, in his review of the San Diego Unified School District, noted that the district spent additional funds from the supplemental and concentration grants on library services for “all schools” in the district. This was justified in the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), the district-prepared accountability plan that dictates how it spends its resources, stating that “such services create equitable access to tools of learning, resources, materials and technology”. .” Using the supplemental and concentration grants in a district-wide program is not exactly the intent behind this school funding framework and the additional resources now flowing to districts.
For one thing, Equity Multiplier allocates funds based on students’ eligibility for free lunches and in schools where there are high concentrations of poverty, which has been a priority for Children Now. However, Equity Multiplier falls far short of addressing the unique needs and barriers faced by our lowest achieving students, who happen to be Black students.
How the Equity Multiplier Fails Black Students
As currently structured, the Equity Multiplier would only reach the 6% of black students who attend California public schools. The remaining 94% of African American students, who have historically and consistently struggled harder, will not receive any additional support because they attend schools that Equity Multiplier will not fund.
As beneficial as the Equity Multiplier might be, the Equity Multiplier also does not address the problem of black student success. Children Now Scorecard data shows that black students’ struggle to meet or exceed academic standards is not directly related to poverty levels.
If the Equity Multiplier is to address black student success, thousands of black students, and an overwhelming majority in our schools, will be left without the tools they need to succeed.
Marin County, one of the wealthiest counties in California, has a total of 67,000 students, 3% of whom are black. That’s about 2,000 black students. According to the Children Now Scorecard, for students in Marin who identify as Black, only 13% of third grade students, 12% of fifth grade students, and 20% of eighth grade students meet or exceed the standards in English language arts, mathematics, and science, respectively.
On average, it can be estimated that only 300 of the 2,000 black students in Marin County meet the state standards. This still leaves 1,700 African American students struggling to meet academic expectations in schools that would not receive any Equity Multiplier funds, leaving them struggling in school without additional supports.
A holistic solution requires systems that are not based on poverty levels alone, but use various tactics to reach all struggling Black students.
For example, in Los Angeles County, where 8% of students identify as Black, the median household income is $76,367, which is generally considered a middle-class income in California. Scorecard data shows that only 13% of black eighth grade students meet or exceed math standards. This compares to 52% of Asian students, 48% of White students, 35% of students who identified as Other, and 20% of Latino students.
What black students need instead
California lawmakers need to take a more direct approach to increasing the success of black students, such as increasing the diversity of teachers and administrators. Study after study shows that increasing the number of black teachers has a positive impact on the success of black students.
Equity Multiplier is an undeniable step forward in bringing funding closer to schools and giving students the resources they need to succeed. However, California’s approach must acknowledge the reality of black students, who have long faced deep-seated and systemic barriers to their educational success.
Simply put, they face challenges unique to their circumstances, and we need policy solutions that address that problem head-on.