Prescriptions for Equal Access to Excellent Education

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

Funding equity

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.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. Adept slight of hand. DiSalvo is in a far better position than the lay reader to understand that, far from being a solution to the achievement gap, charter schools are at the root of growing national re-segregation in public education. Statistics on discrimination in charter enrollment have been published and discussed far and wide over the past month, coinciding (as this piece is) with the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. It seems unlikely DiSalvo missed all the articles and posts by NY Times, CNN, CBS News, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Star Tribune, Al Jazeera, NY Post, Huffington Post, Teacher’s College at Columbia University, Sioux City Journal, El Paso Times, Diane Ravtich (and many more), or the various stern “Dear Colleague” letters issued by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights addressing charter discrimination. Yes, the charter movement has been parent-driven (and I’m sure they cherish their charters once established) but as often as not, it seems parents of students on the ‘winning side’ of the achievement gap draft charter petitions to ‘escape’ certain other students and demographics. I might be inclined to believe this author intends to serve students on the ‘losing side’ of the achievement gap with the charter ‘special remedy’ once I see a SCCBOE-approved charter offer admission preference to students scoring below the median at their district school. DiSalvo and his colleagues on the Santa Clara County Board of Education may rebuild credibility vis-a-vis charters once they begin enforcing legal obligations upon the charters operating under their authority. It’s no great mystery the author makes no mention here of Netflix & Rocketship Education’s Reed Hastings’ view that democratically elected local school boards are the biggest problem with public education, and that unelected self-perpetuating charter boards are superior stewards of a vital public trust. Ironic, is it not, that DiSalvo, himself an elected education official, should boldly, and at great length, represent Hastings’ now infamous polemic against democracy at a SCCBOE meeting focused on charter schools in our county? Hear it from Hastings on YouTube and hear it from DiSalvo in recordings of SCCBOE meetings.

  2. The reality is that all parents just want an excellent school for their children. They do not care if the school is public, private, charter, or whatever label one cares to give it. De-facto segregation is occurring at many levels in our schools. At Morgan Hill Unified School District, Latinos comprise over 70% of students at Central Continuation High School. They make up the same percentage of those students transferred to MHUSD Adult Education School. The District transferred out those high risk students from their comprehensive high schools for no other reason that they were so far behind grade level or they did not have enough credits to graduate in four years.
    Segregation at those alternative schools is a real consequence that awaits those students who do not have the benefit of an excellent school. We all know the fate of those high risk students.
    We can look at the performance achievement data of any year and clearly identify schools, charters and public, that chronically produce poor performing students across all subgroups.. Within the same District, we can identify schools that produce higher performance students across all subgroups. I do not take sides. Show me a school that closes the achievement gap across all groups, and whose students perform at grade level in standardizes tests, and I will support it. I do not care if it is a charter or district school.
    What I have found in my research is that more and more of the labeled “White” students also qualify for the high risk student label. At the Morgan Hill Unified School District 25% of “White” students are in the low end of the achievement gap. We must do more for all of our students. The achievement gap effects all subgroups.
    I agree with Trustee Di Salvo that a Navigator school would be an excellent school for Morgan Hill. I have compared and contrasted Navigator’s student performance data with student performance at each of the Morgan Hill Unified School District’s elementary schools. The data shows that Navigator’s students performed exceedingly superior in standardized achievement tests and closed the achievement gap across all subgroups. In my opinion, that makes it an excellent school for any child. I will support Navigator when it resubmits its petition to open Morgan Hill Prep. only because it has the potential to be an excellent school for MHUSD students.

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