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Can These Powerful Black Leaders Join Forces to Close the Achievement Gap for Black Children?

Joe W. Bowers Jr. | California Black Media

When California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced the English language arts and math results of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress(CAASPP) test last month, we found out that African-American students’ scores lagged behind the much higher marks their White, Asian and Hispanic peers obtained.

 

Statewide, just over 40 percent of all public school students met or exceeded standards in math and 51 percent were proficient in English.

Of those numbers, only 21 percent of African-American students were proficient in math, compared with 74 percent of Asian-American students, 54 percent of White students, and 29 percentof Hispanic students. In English, only 33 percent of African-American students were proficient. Compare that with 77 percent of Asian-American students, 64 percent of White students, and 41 percent of Hispanic students.

Five years ago, California adopted the CAASPP assessment tests. Each year since then, our African-American student scores have ranked at the bottom of the results of all racial subgroupsin the state.

 

During that time, the achievement gap between Black students and their White and Asian peers has seen only marginal improvement, while getting wider between our children and their Hispaniccounterparts.

 

The achievement gap between African-American and White students was first acknowledged over fifty years ago in a 1966 federal government study called the Coleman Report. The United StatesCongress commissioned the report after it passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

 

Since then, education researchers and practitioners have been hard at work trying to identify the causes and propose what can be done to address it. Despite decades of education reformefforts and billions of dollars spent in federal, state and local funding, the achievement gap persists.

 

Ronald Edmonds, the late Harvard education researcher, said 40 years ago, “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest tous. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”

 

To Edmonds and education experts like him, closing the achievement gap is absolutely solvable. The fact that little progress has been made to narrow it can be attributed more to theabsence of political will than to any lack of social science research on the problem.

 

 The social factors that contribute to the achievement gap and the actions necessary to close it have been well studied, but public policymakers tend to avoid or overlook the data andrecommendations that could cost them any  political capital.

 

For example, in 2013 California revamped education funding to provide extra money for school districts with large numbers of “high-needs” students, mostly  kids from poor families orfoster children and “English-learners.” The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) pushed expenditure decisions down from the state to local school districts because Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature believed that those closest to the day-to-day operationof schools were best suited to identify what their students needed and would work best for them.

 

However, this has proven to not be the case, particularly when it comes to the performance of Black students in California.

When the California Department of Education first introduced the new public education finance system in 2013, some lawmakers warned that the LCFF did not provide mechanisms to adequatelytrack how local school officials would spend funds. Gov. Brown and groups representing school districts shot down attempts by legislators like Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) to address that concern.

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This month, California State Auditor Elaine Howle announced that her office’s recent examination of LCFF spending found that the system lacked sufficient oversight and accounting controls,confirming Weber’s reservations. Realizing that there has been very little progress toward closing the achievement gap despite the state having redirected billions of dollars to help solve it, may finally force lawmakers to now consider passing the kind oflegislation Weber initially proposed.

 

Edmonds, who was African American, made the observation that progress toward resolving the achievement gap might not happen as quickly as it could because of how White policymakers viewedthe issue. He did not question their sincerity about solving it, but was concerned about how they would approach it given biases they might have.

 

The former dean of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, Andy Porter, who is white, validated Edmonds’ concerns when he made this statement, “I would like to seethe achievement gap closed, but not at the expense of my kids. I think everybody feels that way.”

It is hard to assess how much the attitude Porter expressed, and the unstated biases of others like him, may have stalled progress toward closing the achievement gap, or if they havehad any effect at all. But, in California right now, there is a unique opportunity if leaders in Education grow the political will to develop effective policy toward closing the achievement gap for African-American students in our state, even if attitudeslike Porter’s continue to exist within – and wield influence on - our education system.

 

Today our key Education Leaders in California are African American. They are Tony Thurmond, State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, President of the StateBoard of Education; E. Toby Boyd, President, California Teachers Association; Margaret Fortune, Board Chair, California Charter School Association; and Emma Turner, President, California School Board Association.

 

 We need these leaders to come together to propose a functioning system that will guide those working hard to achieve results for African-American students in our state. Working withlegislators like Dr. Weber, we will begin to close the achievement gap.

“There has never been a time in the life of the American public school when we have not known all we needed to in order to teach all those whom we chose to teach.” – Ronald Edmonds

California Sells Innovative Social Bonds to Assist the Homeless

 SACRAMENTO – California State Treasurer Fiona Ma announced the sale of $500 million in revenue bonds for the State’s No Place Like Home (NPLH) program, a groundbreaking effort to use voter-approved income tax revenues earmarked to help relieve the state’s homeless problem.

 

The bonds sold today are designated as "Social Bonds" because they follow the Social Bond Principles adopted by the International Capital Markets Association. They are the first portion of $2 billion in bonds authorized by Proposition 2, approved by voters in November 2018.

 

"Today’s sale will have a positive impact on our state’s homeless problem," said Treasurer Ma. "Proceeds raised in this inaugural issuance will translate directly into affordable housing and mental health services for our most vulnerable citizens."

 

Net proceeds from the bond sale will be used by the California Department of Housing and Community Development to assist in the production of permanent supportive housing for persons who are experiencing homelessness, chronic homelessness or who are at risk of chronic homelessness, and who are in need of mental health services. Most of the funds will be allocated to counties and developers of this type of housing.

 

The bonds will be repaid from a portion of a 1 percent state tax on income in excess of $1 million, which was approved by California voters as part of  the Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63) in 2004.

 

The 15-year fixed rate revenue bonds were sold by an underwriting syndicate of 15 banks led by Raymond James & Associates, Inc. and Citigroup Global Markets Inc. The bonds are rated Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, AA- by Fitch Ratings and AA- by Standard & Poor’s.  The all-in true interest rate on the bonds, which are subject to federal income tax, is 2.77%.  Yields to investors ranged from 1.896% for the 2021 maturity to 3.034% for the 2034 maturity.  The syndicate generated in excess of $2.3 billion of total orders from over 100 unique investors, including $84 million directly from international investors.

 

"We were very pleased to see $596 million in orders from 13 investors with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) objectives," noted Treasurer Ma, who added "In addition, we are delighted to have received $200 million in orders from 18 local government investment funds, including 14 from California.  This deep and broad base of investors demonstrates the market’s support for the No Place Like Home program."

 

Various studies have shown the link between mental illness and homelessness, including a recent study from the California Policy Lab at UCLA showing that 78 percent of unsheltered homeless people had a mental health condition. https://www.capolicylab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Health-Conditions-Among-Unsheltered-Adults-in-the-U.S.pdf

 

Information on upcoming state bond sales is available at BuyCaliforniaBonds.com.

Fiona Ma is California’s 34th State Treasurer. She was elected on November 6, 2018 with more votes (7,825,587) than any other candidate for treasurer in the state's history. She is the first woman of color and the first woman Certified Public Accountant (CPA) elected to the position. The State Treasurer’s Office was created in the California Constitution in 1849. It provides financing for schools, roads, housing, recycling and waste management, hospitals, public facilities, and other crucial infrastructure projects that better the lives of residents. California is the world’s fifth-largest economy and Treasurer Ma is the state’s primary banker. Her office processes more than $2 trillion in payments within a typical year. She provides transparency and oversight for the government’s investment portfolio and accounts, as well as for the state’s surplus funds. Treasurer Ma oversees an investment portfolio of more than $90 billion, more than $23 billion of which are local government funds. She serves as agent for sale for all State bonds, and is trustee on more than $90 billion of outstanding debt.

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