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Defend the Dream: Education is the Civil Rights Issue

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By Gloria Romero –

Reprinted from Sacramento Bee

We like to name schools after heroes. But how would Martin Luther King Jr. feel about his name affixed to a persistently failing school, where more than a third of kids drop out year after year – across multiple generations?

Millions of California's children are being sentenced to a life at the bottom of our nation's economic ladder. The dream has been deferred – if not outright denied. In 2009 there were roughly 2 million children attending more than 2,000 failing public schools.

Despite pouring billions of dollars in additional funding into these schools, only a few have turned around.

The racial inequalities of this failure are alarming; last year, the dropout rate of California's African American youths increased.

Only 17 percent of African American eighth-graders are deemed proficient in general math. Only 18 percent of African American 11th-graders are proficient in English language arts.

How does a child dream of being a doctor or a scientist without a basic ability in math? How does that child dream of becoming a teacher or a journalist without fundamental English proficiency?

For every 100 African American ninth-graders in California, only 65 graduate; only 25 graduate with the required college prep course work; only 21 enroll in a community college; only nine in a California State University; and only five in a University of California campus. But 40 percent of those on death row in our state are African American.

Children across the state stand in classrooms each morning and recite the pledge, which affirms our commitment to equality and justice for all. Yet statistics continue to reveal that California's is one of the nation's most racially segregated public school systems.

Seventy-five percent of African American and Latino youth are enrolled in secondary schools defined as "intensely segregated." These schools are almost seven times more likely than majority white schools to experience severe shortages of qualified teachers. It took an ACLU lawsuit to force change in the distribution of highly effective teachers – and even then only in a handful of Los Angeles schools.

We cling to a public education system based on "neighborhood schools" – those defined by ZIP code – as though that idea were sacrosanct.

We ended restricted covenants in housing long ago. We can worship in the church of our choosing and shop in any neighborhood.

We outlawed the practice of banks denying loans based on neighborhood – redlining. But those five numbers forbid us to transcend "neighborhoods" in search of a better education.

We ignore that ZIP code predicts who graduates and who drops out. So it's no surprise that charter schools are in high demand, albeit strongly resisted by the education special interests lobby It is not enough to simply "honor the dream." The problems have proliferated for too long.

The good news is that, at a national level, there is rigorous debate and dialogue about bold school reform. Last year, California partnered with President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to advance effective reforms.

A bold "parent trigger" was enacted. Students and parents were given greater choice in public education, with "districts of choice" options and open enrollment opportunities for kids trapped in chronically failing schools. A firewall that stunted the use of teacher performance linked to student outcomes was abolished. Defending and expanding these education reforms is part of realizing King's dream.

As Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to ask the public to contribute billions of dollars in new taxes this spring, he should commit to linking new and much needed funding to overhaul educator evaluation systems, tenure reform, and protections of parent rights to be fully vested with rights on behalf of their children.

Brown can't do it alone. This challenge requires the Democratic Party to stop pretending the dream is intact. Complacency in our party has continually paralyzed real education reform, yet that fact is rarely discussed.

Indeed, the "elephant in the room" in California happens to be a donkey – we Democrats. We must summon the courage to break with traditional allies when they block reform but offer us money for our campaign coffers instead.

Fortunately, the tide is beginning to turn. Across the country, Democratic governors are joining with Republicans to say enough is enough. In Chicago, mayoral candidates are calling for strong parent rights to transform schools in spite of union opposition. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are challenging the historic hegemony of teacher union politics.

Longtime civil rights activists like California NAACP President Alice Huffman and religious leaders like Eric Lee are standing tall. The times, they are a-changin'.

This King holiday, let's not just say we honor the dream. Let's make it real – and let us start with the most important civil rights issue of our time: education.

South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment Program has Failed

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(NNPA) Oh, it was a great moment when Black South Africans freed themselves from the yolk of Apartheid being administered by the White Afrikaners. However, we must remember that civil rights and political clout without economic empowerment will become borrowed events. The leaders of South Africa have recognized this and are trying to formally do something about it. So far there have been little results. What they have implemented is the Black Economic Empowerment Program.

According to Wikipedia, “ Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is a program launched by the South African government to redress the inequalities of Apartheid by giving previously disadvantaged groups (Black Africans, Coloreds, Indians and Chinese – declared as Black in June 2008 – who are South African citizens) economic opportunities previously not available to them. It includes measures such as Employment Equity, skills development, ownership, management, socioeconomic development, and preferential procurement. After the end of Apartheid in 1994 and with the advent of majority rule, control of big business in both the public and private sectors still rested in the hands of white individuals. According to Statistics South Africa, Whites comprise just under 10% of the population, meaning that most of the country’s economy was controlled by a very small minority. BEE is intended to transform the economy to be representative of the demographic make-up of the country.”

It sounds like a noble cause but there is just one thing. It is not working. It is poorly implemented and is wrought with corruption, fraud, and misrepresentation. A few colored and Asians are getting the lion’s share of the business while the Black population continues to be left out of the economic infrastructure. Among the 295 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Blacks account for just 4% of chief executive officers, 2% of chief financial officers and 15% of other senior posts (The Economist). Entrepreneurship is basically void and a start in this area is desperately needed. Even President Jacob Zuma seems to agree. “Instead of redistributing wealth and positions to the Black majority, they have resulted mainly in a few individuals benefiting a lot,” he says, “while leaving the leadership of most big companies in White hands. The Black masses, the intended beneficiaries, have hardly gained.” Well, Mr. President, what are you going to do about it?

South Africa must turn this opportunity into a success. Affirmative Action is written into its constitution so there can be no legal challenges of a direct and aggressive program. That being the case they should look at models that have worked. There has been no more successful model than our Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program. This business development program has made more Black millionaires than all of the other economic empowerment programs combined. South Africa needs to form an agency such as the Small Business Administration and begin working on a program that will work.

In addition to business development there should be a pool of capital set aside for business start up and expansions. Capital is the “life blood” of any business and to try and implement an economic empowerment program without ready reserves becomes an impossible task by itself.

Here again, the SBA lending programs can be emulated or even improved with less paper work.

The South African government must set aside a pool of contracts for participants in the program to compete for. There can be some subcontracting also but prime contracting is the key to business growth. Develop large Black owned businesses and demand that they subcontract to other Black owned firms.

Black should be Black. They must not aggregate all ethnic groups under the label of Black. They should separate and monitor each group. You can’t tell me that the colored, Indians, and Chinese endured Apartheid in an equal manner to Blacks. The typical executive in South Africa makes $80,000 per year. A typical Black makes $800 per year. This disparity is intolerable and must be dealt with immediately. Entrepreneurship and business development are the direct ways to correcting the situation.

Collectively, South Africa is a financially strong nation. It is the only first world nation on the continent of Africa. The problem is the distribution of wealth. Some of the richest families in the world reside in South Africa while the poverty levels rival many third world nations. The crime and violence are rampant and soon, if they don’t address it, it will evolve into rebellion and than full scale revolution. The time for change is immediate and the potential for greatness is obviously attainable, if the leaders would become more accountable and take their people to greatness. There is no other nation on earth with such potential for great change. God bless South Africa.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.


National Urban League Announces Blueprint for Quality Job Creation

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“Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is a fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last Monday, the nation celebrated what would have been the 82nd birthday of the 20th century’s great drum major for justice, Dr; Martin Luther King. Dr. King understood that economic justice was the most crucial question confronting Black people, as well as poor and middle class people generally throughout America. In fact, at his death, he was on the brink of launching a nationwide campaign for jobs and income.

As, America enters the second decade of a new millennium, and the National Urban League begins its second century, our organization is introducing a new blueprint for achieving that goal.

The nation remains mired in a great recession. The National Urban League has seen the impact of this crisis first-hand. Our more than 100 local affiliates across the country are economic first-responders in the ongoing effort to help ease the burden of those most profoundly affected by this recession, serving some 2.1 million citizens in 2010 alone.

During the past two years, much of the work of the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress has been nothing short of heroic. From the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to the passage of the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act, the Affordable Healthcare Act, and the extension of middle class tax relief and unemployment benefits, the Administration has taken historic actions to restore America’s economic vitality.

But, the persistent nature of the recession has brought little relief to families either out of work or stretching part-time wages to meet full-time financial commitments. Record numbers of Americans were forced into foreclosure in 2010, and many urban families in communities already long beset by economic stagnation are enduring unemployment rates as high as 20 percent.

That is why the National Urban League is proposing a new 12-point Blueprint for Quality Job Creation. Our plan offers a dozen dynamic and imaginative measures to both rescue those most profoundly affected by the ongoing economic emergency, while also remedying many of the underlying causes behind the recession’s inordinate and seemingly-amplified impact on the communities we serve:

1. Restore the Summer Youth Jobs Program as a Stand-alone Program Employing five million Teens in the Summer 2011.
2. Create 100 Urban Jobs Academies to Implement an Expansion of the Urban Youth Empowerment Program.
3. Develop a Dynamic National Public-Private Jobs Initiative to Create Jobs and Train Urban Residents and Stimulate Economic Growth in the areas of Technology and Broadband, Health Care, Manufacturing, Transportation and Public Infrastructure and Clean Energy.
4. Boost Minority Participation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Industries.
5. Reform, Revise, and Reauthorize Workforce Investment Act to prepare and retrain workers for 21st century jobs.
6. Create Green Empowerment Zones.
7. Expand Small Business Lending.
8. Initiate Tax Reform that reduces rates across the board and eliminates tax loopholes.
9. Establish and Promote Multilateral International Trade Policies that expand the market for American goods and services.
10. Enact the Urban Jobs Act (H.R. 5708).
11. Expand the hiring of housing counselors nationwide.
12. Fund Direct Job Creation in cities and states.

We urge the Congress and the White House to adopt these measures without delay.

Marc H. Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.

Something is Seriously Wrong with this Picture

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By Kenneth M. Young
Riverside County Superintendent of Schools

On Monday, Governor Brown released his much anticipated 2011-12 state budget proposal. The proposal, which includes closing a roughly $6 billion hole in the current year budget, contains a combination of cuts, extensions of existing taxes set to expire soon, and a complex restructuring plan he hopes will substantially reduce California’s estimated $19 billion state budget deficit in 2011-2012.

However, the proposal would require bipartisan support from California’s deeply divided legislature and success at the polls before it could become a reality—certainly a challenging feat given the state’s economic and political environment.

In unveiling his proposal, the governor noted that “public education has borne a disproportionate share of budget cuts in recent years”. After roughly $18 billion in cuts to education over the past three years this statement seemed to indicate our K-12 public schools might be spared from further loss of funding. But, the “devil is in the details” as they say, and since schools make up roughly 40% of the state budget, the implications of the governor’s comments are tempered by reality. His proposed budget includes over $2 billion in additional funding delays (this comes on top of the roughly $8 billion in school funding that is already being postponed) and requires schools to adopt their budgets by June 30th with complete uncertainty over a highly risky ballot measure. In the unlikely event the measure makes it to the polls, and then in the likely event the voters reject it, further cuts to schools would most likely range between $330 to $615 per student without suspending Proposition 98 — depending where in the overall state budget the governor and legislature ultimately agree they can legally and politically make the cuts needed to adopt a balanced budget.

California’s overall economy, and especially that of the Inland Empire, continues to languish in a deep recession. Since California’s schools are largely funded out of the state budget, the negative impact of the economy has had a disproportionate effect on the financial stability and educational ability of our public school system.

By law, our schools have become overly dependent on funding from a state budget that is subject to increasing demands from diverse sectors of society, extremes in economic cycles and polarized political positions. This is no way to run a modern state or a high-quality education system. We must remove the restraints on local cities and communities that currently prevent them from choosing to make public education among their top priorities. They can legally do so when it comes to building their local schools, but they cannot do so when it comes to the operation of those schools they helped build. Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

Recent Shooting in Redlands

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By Renea Wickman –

As a parent I cannot think of anything worse than the loss of a child or loved one, murdered. Equally, I cannot imagine my child or loved one murdering another child or any human being.

No parent wishes their child to be murdered or to be a murderer.

The indescribable pain of parents, families and friends that have lost a loved one at the hands of a youth, criminal, racist or the criminally insane can never be mended or ever made whole, the pain never goes away. There is nothing that will ever bring their loved one back, and that is the devastating reality.

Semi-automatic and automatic assault weapons, hand grenades, ammunition that penetrates bulletproof vests and weapons used by peace officers, the United States Armed Forces, including the National Guard, that are available to youth, criminals, racists and the criminally insane, will always result in senseless murders like those that very recently happened here in Redlands and Arizona.

I believe in our great Constitution and the second amendment and will protect it with my own life. However, I do not believe our forefathers intended or desired that our civilized society include youth, criminals, racists and the criminally insane the right to bear arms to the same degree of availability as reasonable civilized law abiding and productive citizens, any more than we would allow our underage youth the availability and right to purchase and drink alcohol and blind individuals the privilege of a drivers license.

Moreover, in part of his response to the Redlands shootings, our own Police Chief Bueermann cited that “racial tensions” are running high.

Yet, our fine city has a Human Relations Commission whose mission is “… promoting goodwill and better relations among all people.”

Does this commission plan to involve itself in seeking solutions?

It’s time that we faced the facts that the entire City of Redlands, its leaders, all Redlands citizens need to come together and work with our youth – all of them. We have the talent and leadership right here in our city that can tackle both the combined problems of gang violence and racism.

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