25 Apr LCFF: A New Chapter in the Fight for Racial Justice

By Marqueece Harris-Dawson

In the long arc towards racial justice in California, a quality public education for children of all races, has been a central, but difficult goal to reach.

Today’s battle for a fair distribution of billions of public dollars that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will receive under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), is the latest chapter in that struggle.

To talk about institutionalized racism in California, is to talk about discrimination in the schools.  Like the rest of the country, California segregated white students – and the millions in public resources attached to them – from non-white students, until the Courts forced them to stop doing so.

While racial segregation built the foundation for denying children of color their fundamental human right to education, unfair distribution of school funds has been the engine that keeps racial disparities alive.

The LCFF represents a long-overdue recognition of this fact.  First, it ensures that all school districts receive an equitable amount of money. Then, it sends additional funds to those districts with a concentration of poor students, foster children, and English learners.

For LA Unified, this translates to millions of dollars beginning next school year and hundreds of millions – in “concentration funds” – over the next 5 years.

Superintendent Deasy and the School Board have an opportunity to chip away at the structural racism in the school system – and a cornerstone of racial inequality in our society – by ensuring that these dollars flow to public schools located in neighborhoods that have the highest concentration of need.

In the past, LAUSD played a key role in promoting racial inequality by aligning funding formulas with racially segregated housing patterns.

For example, formulas for campus maintenance funds were based on square footage of school facilities, in order to systematically favor the newer, more spread-out campuses in the San Fernando Valley.

University of Oregon scholar Daniel HoSang Martinez notes such decisions were made in service of white flight to the suburbs at the expense of the older, more compact schools attended by students of color in the central city.

This funding inequity interacted with other “colorblind” methods according to HoSang Martinez, like setting attendance boundaries, arranging elementary, middle and high school feeder patterns and choosing new school sites in ways that preserved racial disparities.

Over the past several decades, students of color and advocates for racial equity have challenged racially discriminatory conditions for learning.  In the late 60s, they demanded classes about Black and Chicano history, more teachers of color, and an end to corporal punishment for speaking Spanish, through cross-racial organizing in LA schools.

Since then, educational inequity has been produced through a massive financial disinvestment in public schools at the state level and policies and practices at the local level that reproduced these legacies of historical discrimination.

For example, the passage of the LCFF follows a dark period in California state budget history, in which billions were spent to expand the prison system, while the state plunged to the bottom 5 among all states in per-pupil spending.

In addition, the old funding formula simply gave more money to schools that had higher attendance rates, effectively punishing minority schools that were already suffering from disinvestment, and rewarding highly resourced schools.

At the school level, suspensions for “willfull defiance” were far more common for students of color, especially Black boys, than white students, even for the same behavior, until students mobilized to ban the practice.

In 2012, South LA residents joined a statewide coalition targeting voters of color and immigrant voters to pass Proposition 30, a watershed vote that reversed the state’s abandonment of public education. Then, they helped pass LCFF, whose spirit and structure embodies a simple, but potentially revolutionary, principle: public dollars for education should be used to transform the schools where the students with the highest needs live.

The Superintendent and School Board should vindicate this principle and make a forceful turn towards racial equity.  They can do that by ensuring that the schools in the neighborhoods which are home to the very students who are the source of the millions of dollars flowing to the LAUSD, are the destination for the concentration funds.

Marqueece-Harris Dawson is the President and CEO of the Community Coalition.

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