24 Jul South L.A. Students Win Campaign for Equity at LAUSD School Board
By Joshua Busch
On June 10, while most students were celebrating their first week of summer vacation, hundreds of students from South and East Los Angeles gathered in downtown a more profound cause. Holding signs and chanting, the students had come to encourage the L.A. Unified School District Board of Education to adopt their “Equity is Justice” Resolution, a historic policy that will send millions of dollars to the highest-need schools in the district.
“We came to fight for better schools for our younger brothers and sisters, and the generations to come,” said Timothy Walker, a rising senior at Crenshaw High School. “I’ve had twelve friends drop out since ninth grade, but if our schools had more resources—like counselors and support programs—more students could graduate and go on to college.”
A broad coalition of grassroots and civil rights groups, anchored by the Advancement Project, Community Coalition and InnerCity Struggle, laid the groundwork for the “Equity is Justice” Resolution. Using a “Student Need Index,” a data-driven tool that identifies precisely which schools suffer from the worst neighborhood learning environments, the groups convinced three school board members to embrace the index and co-sponsor the resolution.
Jathan Melendez, a sophomore at Manual Arts High, told the school board: “It doesn’t matter that I’m a leader in my community, or that I do well in school. When I walk home, I have to choose my route carefully or I can be the target of gang violence. Last year, one of my schoolmates was killed four blocks from school.”
With an estimated $837 million in new funding this year to help high-needs students, and perhaps billions more later, LAUSD has an infusion of resources that could help reverse decades of disinvestment in inner-city schools. The funds are the result of a new state law —the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)—which sends additional resources to school districts with concentrations of low-income students, youth in foster care and English-language learners. However, local school districts were given great latitude in deciding how to spend these funds, with few guarantees that the new resources would indeed impact those most in need.
As Melendez and dozens of his peers looked on, the school board debated the resolution. When Board member Bennet Kayser stated, “I intend to vote for it”, a cheer erupted from the crowd, as his support gave the students the winning fourth vote for which they had been working. Moments later, Boardmember Monica Ratliff indicated her willingness to vote “yes”—joining co-sponsors Monica Garcia and Steve Zimmer and Board President Richard Vladovic—and cement passage of the resolution with a 5-1 vote.
“This is a historic vote for LAUSD and a game changer for the district’s high-need students,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition. “The future leaders of our city—students—used their collective voice to ensure state funds are used to improve the highest-need schools in our neighborhoods. They demonstrated that smart budgeting and addressing educational inequity go hand and hand.”
Busch is the director of Digital Media at Community Coalition.