It’s nicknamed the “Golden State” — and indeed, as the center of agriculture production, the tech industry, and the entertainment industry, it’s no wonder California’s on the cusp of becoming the fourth-largest economy in the world. That America’s prosperity is irrevocably tied to California’s prosperity is so well known that politicians, policymakers, and pundits coast to coast are familiar with a saying: “As California goes, so goes the nation.” 

But if you think Black students across California are getting the education they need to be a part of such a global economic powerhouse, think again. 

Black students are the lowest-performing student subgroup throughout nearly every county in California. This has been a well-known and reported problem for decades, and countless proposed solutions have been sought to fix it. 

One of the latest comes in the form of the Equity Multiplier in the 2023-24 proposed state budget — and if the idea spreads nationwide, Black children in states other than California could continue to be deprived of the education they deserve.

What Is the Equity Multiplier?

The Equity Multiplier is a proposal by California’s Governor to address a legislative measure that stalled during California’s 2022 legislative session and is intended to improve the academic achievement of Black students, which significantly lags behind other student groups irrespective of wealth or income. This measure, AB 2774, authored by Assemblymember, Dr. Akilah Weber, would have changed the state’s school funding formula by directing resources to school districts based on the lowest-performing subgroup of students. By that measure, this would direct resources to support black students. 

As an alternative to AB 2774, the governor has proposed the Equity Multiplier, which allocates money based on high concentrations of students living in poverty instead of on the specific needs of students. Thus, allowing funding to flow to the schools the students attend instead of districts. The intention of this legislation is to focus on improving outcomes for students at specific schools and prevent districts from diluting support by spending on district-wide purposes.  

Why did the state decide we need this? Well, in part, this is a response to criticisms of California’s school funding system called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Reviews by both the Public Policy Institute and the California State Auditor have articulated that it is extremely difficult to determine whether districts are currently spending designated resources on the students that generate them. The LCFF is intended to specifically increase and improve services for low-income students, English learners, and youth in the foster care system (also known as supplemental and concentration grant funding).  

But if you think Black students across California are getting the education they need to be a part of such a global economic powerhouse, think again. 

As an example, the California State Auditor, in its review of the San Diego Unified School District, noted that the district spent the additional funding from the supplemental and concentration grants on library services for “all schools” in the district. This was justified in the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) — the accountability plan prepared by the district that dictates how it is spending its resources — by stating, “such services create equitable access to learning tools, resources, materials, and technology.” Using the supplemental and concentration grants on a districtwide program is not exactly the intent behind this school funding framework and additional resources that now flow to districts.

On one hand, the Equity Multiplier allocates funds based on students’ eligibility for free lunches and on school sites where there are high concentrations of poverty, which has been a Children Now priority.  However, the Equity Multiplier falls far short of addressing the unique needs and barriers facing our lowest-performing students, which happen to be Black students.

How the Equity Multiplier Fails Black Students

As currently structured, the Equity Multiplier would only reach 6% of the Black students attending California’s public schools. The remaining 94% of Black students, who have historically and consistently struggled the most, won’t receive any additional support because they attend schools that the Equity Multiplier will not fund. 

As beneficial as the Equity Multiplier could be, the Equity Multiplier also doesn’t address the issue of Black student success. Children Now’s scorecard data shows that Black students’ struggle to meet or exceed academic standards isn’t directly linked to poverty levels. 

If the Equity Multiplier’s intent is to address the issue of Black students’ success, thousands of Black students, and an overwhelming majority in our schools, will go without the tools needed to succeed.  

As currently structured, the Equity Multiplier would only reach 6% of the Black students attending California’s public schools.

Marin County, one of the wealthier counties in California, has a total of 67,000 students, 3% of whom are Black. That’s roughly 2,000 Black students. According to the Children Now Scorecard, for students in Marin who identify as Black, only 13% of third-graders, 12% of fifth-graders, and 20% of eighth-graders are meeting or exceeding standards in English Language Arts, mathematics, and science, respectively. 

Averaged together, it can be estimated that only 300 of the 2,000 Black students in Marin County are meeting state standards. This still leaves 1,700 Black students struggling to meet academic expectations at schools that would not receive any Equity Multiplier funds, leaving them to struggle through school without additional supports.

A holistic solution requires systems that are not based on poverty levels alone but use several tactics to reach all struggling Black students. 

For example, in Los Angeles County, where 8% of students identify as Black, the average household income is $76,367, which is generally considered to be a middle-class income in California. The Scorecard data shows that only 13% of Black eighth graders are meeting or exceeding math standards. This compares to 52% of Asian students, 48% of white students, 35% of students who identified as other, and 20% of Latino students. 

What Black Students Need Instead

California policymakers must take a more direct approach to increase Black student success, like increasing teacher and administrator diversity. Study after study shows increasing the number of Black teachers positively impacts Black student success. 

The Equity Multiplier is an undeniable step forward in getting funds closer to schools and giving students the resources needed to succeed. Yet, California’s approach needs to recognize the reality for Black students, who have long been faced with deeply entrenched and systemic barriers to their educational success. 

Simply put, they face challenges unique to their circumstances, and we need policy solutions that address that problem head-on.  

Adonai Mack is the Senior Director, Education at Children Now, in this role, he leads Children Now’s advocacy on public education issues and has over 20 years of experience in education policy, advocacy, and equity leadership. Prior to joining Children Now, Mr. Mack served in leadership positions with the Association of California School Administrators and had prior advocacy and education policy roles with the California School Boards Association, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, and for Governor Gray Davis in his Office of the Secretary for Education. 

About Children Now

Children Now is a non-partisan, whole-child research, policy development, and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health, education, and well-being in California. The organization also leads The Children’s Movement of California, a network of over 5,000 direct service, parent, youth, civil rights, faith-based and community groups dedicated to improving children’s well-being.