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California Ed Chief Tony Thurmond’s Equity Initiatives Gain National Recognition

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Joe W. Bowers Jr. | California Black Media   

California is the winner of the 2022 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation.

The nation’s preeminent education award for innovation, it recognizes a state for enacting reforms or implementing programs that go beyond marginal or incremental changes to improve student outcomes on a large scale.

According to the Education Commission of the States, California is being recognized for “its coordinated approach to educating all students from preschool to postsecondary, with explicit attention toward whole-child supports and services, as well as its historic financial investments to ensure educational equity.”

In his press release announcing the win, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said, “This is an incredible honor, and while the work continues, we’re proud of this national recognition that shows how California is improving educational outcomes for its students, closing equity gaps, and transforming education for students from pre-kindergarten to adulthood.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose administration has made funding public education a priority, acknowledged receiving the award by saying, “California is transforming education from pre-kindergarten through to college and beyond, empowering students and families with more supports, more choices, and more opportunities. This award recognizes the hard work that’s gone into this transformative change by leaders throughout the state…. and the winners here are California’s kids and parents.”

The Newman Award announcement coincided with school districts finalizing their 2022-23 budgets which were due at their County Office of Education by June 30. Their budgets are bolstered by the highest level of funding in state history for all K-12 education programs – $128.6 billion is being allocated. Per pupil spending is $22,893 an all-time high.

The award recognized California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) as one of the nation’s most equitable formulas. LCFF allocates more resources to school districts educating low-income students. In this year’s state budget, school districts are receiving a $9.0 billion increase in ongoing LCFF funding, a 13% base increase over 2021-22 rates.

The award noted that in the last two years, California has approved increases to the LCFF allowing school districts to add more teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and other student support providers.

A letter nominating the state for the award read, “… [W]e believe there is no other state doing as much to advance educational equity for its neediest students as California is doing today.”

Since taking office in 2019, Thurmond has championed and created initiatives taking into consideration the unique needs California’s students. In order to achieve equity and transformative change he has promoted mental health programs, community schools, literacy, expanded learning programs, professional development, anti-racism training, and universal schools and universal meals programs.

Thurmond told California Black Media (CBM) that, “Starting out my goal was to figure out how to support Black students wherever they are in the state.” His Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap has been the source of a number of recommendations advancing equity for all students.

Task Force recommendations include:

Supporting literacy as a strategy for closing the gap. In 2021 Thurmond launched a campaign committed to ensuring all students read by third grade by 2026. This effort includes securing funds for literacy supports and school libraries as well as for family engagement supports for literacy. This year’s budget includes $250 million to be spent over 5 years to hire literacy coaches and reading specialists for low-income elementary schools, and to implement evidence-based literacy strategies for preschool through third grade students and their families.

Diversifying the teacher workforce. Thurmond developed and sponsored AB 520 (Mike Gipson, D-Carson), which called for expanding male educators of color. This bill was embedded into the 2021 budget which allocated $350 million in residency grants for teacher preparation programs with an emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce. $184 million in new funding for teacher residencies is included in the 2022-23 budget and eligibility is expanded include to counselors.

Expanding funding for Community Schools. In 2019 Thurmond wrote and sponsored AB 1196 (Gipson) to fund Community Schools. In 2021, Thurmond worked with Newsom on a proposal to expand community schools. The 2021 budget allocated $3 Billion for Community Schools and the California Department of Education (CDE) is currently implementing the community schools’ strategy. An additional $1.13 Billion was authorized in this year’s budget.

Providing professional development to help close the achievement grant. Thurmond helped to secure $1.5 Billion in Educator Effectiveness Grants to support professional development for educators to help close learning gaps. CDE has awarded the Educator Effectiveness Grants and is working with districts to implement this strategy.

Expanding mental health programs. Thurmond sponsored SB 1229 (McGuire, D-Healdsburg) which would fund $25,000 grants to add 10,000 mental health clinicians to serve California students. Provisions of SB 1229 have been folded into the 2022-23 budget legislation as part of teacher and school counselor residency programs. The current Golden State Teacher Grant Program is expanded to include mental health providers authorizing them to receive grants up to $20,000.

Expanding Pre-school programs. Thurmond sponsored AB 22 (McCarty, D-Sacramento) a bill that guarantees Universal Transitional Kindergarten. Thurmond and CDE are now implementing the policy.  This year’s budget expands transitional kindergarten eligibility and rebenches the Proposition 98 Guarantee to $611 Million to accommodate enrollment increases. Also, $383 Million is approved to reduce the adult-to-student ratio for transitional kindergarten.

Expanding Dual language immersion programs. Thurmond wrote and is sponsoring SB 952 (Limón, D-Santa Barbara) a bill that helps schools expand into dual language immersion programs. This bill is a priority bill for the Latino Caucus.

Piloting implicit bias programs. Thurmond secured $10 million in the 2021 state budget for funds for districts to provide anti-bias training.

Reducing chronic absenteeism. Thurmond secured grant funds to provide Oakland and Inglewood Unified School Districts resources needed to contact families with chronically absent students.

The Education Commission of the States will present California leaders with the Newman Award at the 2022 National Forum on Education Policy being held July 13-15 in Washington, D.C.


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