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California Needs to Pass "Race to the Top" Legislation

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Hardy L. BrownThe Obama Administration has allocated $4.35 billion dollars in education grants for states to support innovative programs that will lift those districts with students at the bottom on par with our successful students.

States will have to alter the way they have tried to solve this problem by changing policies, allocating resources, measuring results, and involving staff, parents, community and private industry. They will also have to remove the cap on charter schools as well as challenge the well established traditional professional system of educating kids in urban schools as we seek “Race to the Top” funds. Here is the problem in California for African American students: There are 454,780 or 7.3% Black students in California public schools. We only have 13,115 or 4.3% Black teachers in our classrooms. We have the highest drop-out rate of any group at 32.9%, which is 10% higher than the next group. Out of the 26,026 Black students that graduated in 2007/08 only 6,060 had the required courses to enter our UC/CSU campuses of higher learning. This is 23.3% of those that graduated. Our Academic Performance Index rating is at 659 which is far below the target score of 800 we would like for it to be. The sad thing about our failing or low performing schools is the longer Black students stay in school the worse things get for them. For example in our 2nd through 6th grades Black students scored at 705; in 7th through 8th grade they scored 649 and 612 in 9th through 12th grades.

This must be turned around and the Obama Administration program of Race to the Top is a lifeline to help save our children from a life of low wages, high unemployment, poverty, crime, neglected healthcare and the road of second class citizenship. I know that money alone will not solve our struggling educational system but it will help stimulate innovate ideas, programs and people as it provides the resources in these underfunded communities. The funds will have to be utilized in the areas where the worst needs have been identified. Of course I have concerns that when money comes to town you get those well meaning, fast talking people who claim they can change the world and we would have to be aware of them. But to do nothing is not an option in our community.

As a former school board member and member of the California School Board Association, let me tell you, this is not a Black community issue alone. There are 2.5 million African Americans in California. Our schools are where we train our leaders and workforce of tomorrow. The more money we earn the more we spend. The better educated we are the less support is required from public assistance.

In order to even be eligible to receive any of the $4.35 billion dollars the state legislature will need to pass a state law signed by the governor in order to even submit an application for funding. I am therefore urging our state representatives Democrats and Republicans to support SBX51 sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero, Senator Bob Huff, Senator Elaine Alquist and Senator Mark Wyland. I also want there to be some safeguards in the law to ensure that once any money is received the state make sure dollars are also spent with minority-owned and led entities that are committed to the educational advancement of our children and serve as the backbone of our state’s economy. If not, it then becomes just a stimulus program to help the institutions that helped create these low achieving students and schools. So let us “race to the top” together as partners in helping our students achieve, while building a better community for all of us to enjoy.

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