The fight for equal access to excellent education continues. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in its Brown v. Board of Education decision that separating black and white students was unconstitutional because it denied black children the guarantee of the 14th Amendment: equal protection under the law.
It has now been 60 years since that venerable decision was rendered yet we still have a public education system where equity has not been achieved. Race and income still too often dictate the quality of the educational experience. These issues apply to districts in our 31 school districts in Santa Clara County.
There are three critical issues that we must continue to address to realize the equal protection doctrine:
1. Funding equity
2. Choice of education experience
3. Equal achievement results
California will make giant strides in funding equity thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature's commitment to a new 2014-15 model. In the old funding system, districts could receive 40-45 percent less per year per student than property tax-based revenue from wealthier districts in the same county. For example, Alum Rock’s revenue limit in 2013 was approximately $7,000 per student while Palo Alto Unified's “Basic Aid” funding model allowed it to receive nearly $13,000 per student.
Under the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), districts with high concentrations of English Language Learners, students eligible for a Free or Reduced Program Meal (FRPM), and foster youth will receive additional discretionary dollars over the base funding formula. It’s a giant step in the right direction to assure increased equity of opportunity. Yet local control of funding is only good if that new money increases achievement for each and every child. Achievement data over the next 3-5 years will be quite instructive on how education is governed in the future.
Choice of education experience
The choice movement relative to charter schools has received plenty of attention in this space over the last 5 years and across the media spectrum. Parents have driven the movement. They feel their children are not served in an equitable manner in neighborhood school classrooms when compared with the experience of other schools and districts. Most states have passed laws—California in 1992—allowing for a new publicly funded system of choice schools called charters.
It seems obvious that no parent who believes their child is receiving a high quality education would ever wish for that child to leave and participate in a charter school. However, in SCC we have hundreds of students on charter school wait lists.
Some of our local districts understand that by working with charter schools and charter management organizations proactively and cooperatively they can better address gaps and needs to bring about better achievement results with local control. No district that I know of has reached equity for all students. The achievement gap is real in too many pockets in Santa Clara County.
Equal achievement results
Thomas Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association, recently opined in the American School Board Journal, "NSBA believes well-designed charters that are authorized by their local school boards can play an important role in K-12 Education.”
I believe all my colleagues on the Santa Clara County Office of Education board would agree with Gentzel's sentiments. And yet, California law allows for countywide benefit charters and approval of charters denied at the district level if they meet requisite education code provisions.
Alum Rock Union Elementary School District had an opportunity last Thursday to authorize a Rocketship charter school with local control for 2014-15. On a 3-2 vote the district denied the school by "punting" it over to the SCCOE board to take it up on appeal in June.
Morgan Hill Unified will have another opportunity to gain high quality "choice" schools in their community, when Navigator comes to petition the district once again. I hear more high quality charters are looking to address the equity issues that data indicate exists in Morgan Hill. It would be fantastic to heed Gentzel's assertion, and for MHUSD to continue the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education 60 years later by approving high quality charters, These schools would work on increasing academic achievement equity under local authority.
Lastly, I will continue to work on ensuring universal Pre-kindergarten for all children. This prescription will go a long way in making equal protection under the law a reality.
It might be the only strategy that will work.