The Legacy of Brown v. Board Today

24 May The Legacy of Brown v. Board Today

By Marsha Mitchell, Senior Director of Communications

On May 17th, education advocates commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision, which ruled that “separate but equal” segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Today, schools still remain one of the most segregated institutions in America — and research has shown that the racial divide is actually getting worse.

At no time has the education system ever served the unique needs of non-white and non-affluent communities. In 1896, the Supreme Court mandated via Plessy v. Ferguson that racially segregated public facilities were constitutionally legal, so long as the facilities for Black people and whites were equal. While Brown v. Board of Education is a widely known landmark Supreme Court case, few can trace its origins to the case of nine-year-old Sylvia Mendez in Mendez v. Westminster.

Mendez v. Westminster: The Mexican-American Fight for School Integration and Social Equality Pre-Brown v. Board of Education

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his The Other America speech, in which he said, “… There are literally two Americas. One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality. That America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture, and education for their minds … In this other America, thousands, yes, even millions, of young people are forced to attend inadequate, substandard, inferior, quality-less schools, and year after year, thousands of young people in this other America finish our high schools reading at an eighth and a ninth-grade level sometimes. Not because they are dumb, not because they don’t have innate intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so overcrowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated, if you will, that the best in these minds can never come out.”

 And while a quality education remains separate, it is far from equal. 

The fight for racial justice includes the battle for education. Kamarie Brown, SCYEA youth leader and the first African American female student to serve as the Student Board Member for the 2nd largest school district in the nation (Los Angeles Unified School District), said she almost attended a school in North Hollywood, 15 miles away from her home. “The question always lingered, ‘Why do I have to travel far out to go to a good school?’” said Brown, who ultimately attended her home school, Crenshaw High.

CoCo’s Work in the Battle for a More Equitable School System

CoCo’s education fights are rooted in the belief that students and families in South LA deserve the same opportunities as any other students in the district. From the first educational campaign to fight for equitable facilities (Proposition Better Buildings), to our flagship education campaign that created access to classes needed to be eligible to apply to universities (A-G is a Civil Right), to the most recent fights for positive school climate, equitable funding, and targeted investments in Black students, CoCo has organized and leveraged student and parent power to push the boundaries of equity in LAUSD.

The Equity Alliance for LA’s Kids is a coalition of policy, advocacy, organizing, and educational nonprofits that believes public education plays a significant role in eliminating poverty and racism for the future of all Angelenos. Catalyst California, Community Coalition (CoCo), Inner City Struggle (ICS), and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (Partnership) have worked with parents and student advocates to codify the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Declaring that “equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice,” the governor’s newly enacted policy ensured that equity was at the heart of the distribution of dollars to school districts throughout the state. School districts with the highest percentage of low-income, foster care, and English Language Learners would see increased budget investments through “supplemental and concentration grants.”

This led to the Equity is Justice Campaign and resulted in the creation of the Student Equity Need Index (SENI) in 2014. The SENI created a data-driven, community-led, and community-centered formula that identifies schools by need, prioritizes high-need schools in the district, and allocates LCFF dollars equitably. The community-led SENI policy signaled the most significant shift in the LAUSD’s funding strategy to address the achievement gaps that consistently leave highest-need Black and Brown students behind. 

In 2021, CoCo deepened equity investments in the district by creating the Black Student Achievement Plan (BSAP) in collaboration with education partners through the Police-Free LAUSD Coalition (PF LAUSD). This Coalition redirected $25M from police into community-based safety strategies and the Black Student Achievement Plan (BSAP). The coalition has continued to push and help grow BSAP investments to over $125 million, funding culturally responsive curriculum and instruction, partnerships with community-based organizations, and increased staffing to provide targeted supports for academic performance, social-emotional development, positive cultural identity formation, and a reimagined school safety. Police-Free LAUSD partners include Community Coalition, Students Deserve, Black Lives Matter-LA, Labor Community Strategy Center, Brothers Sons Selves Coalition (BSS), InnerCity Struggle (ICS), United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI), Reclaim Our Schools LA, ACLU of Southern California, Million Dollar Hoods, and the Collective for Liberatory Lawyering.

Celebrating its 10th year, the Student Equity Needs Index funding is still sorely needed, even as the districts create investments into BSAP and other equity programs. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “California’s schools still produce grossly unequal results among racial and economic groups. While reading proficiency among fourth-graders climbed from 40% to 49% between 2014 and 2019, with slightly greater gains for low-income students, racial disparities failed to budge. White children in California have continued to achieve at three grade levels above Latino peers over the past quarter century, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress—gaps were even larger for Black children. The picture is similar for math.” Pending budget cuts to the state and school district threaten to cut precious dollars from SENI and BSAP, which are much to help close the achievement gaps for Black and Brown students. 

Miguel Dominguez, Director of Development, and Christian Flagg, Director of Training for Community Coalition, contributed to this article.

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