Dr. Margaret Fortune — President/CEO of Fortune School
I cannot aptly describe just how complicated running a school has become in the era of COVID-19. New categories of jobs have been created in schools just to contact trace, test, and track the escalation of the virus as it spreads. The county health department gave our school a one-page “decision tree” last year to guide our response when we got a COVID case. Now the document is literally called a “decision forest” and it’s three times as long.
Quarantining people who become infected has an eerie effect in schools. A person who is at work today, can disappear tomorrow into quarantine leaving the function they once performed to go undone for ten days at a time because there is nobody to replace them. These staffing gaps impact the ability of schools to consistently provide the services we take for granted.
The reality is before the pandemic 67 percent of Black kids in the Golden State could not read or write at grade level, while 79 percent were below state standards in mathematics and 86 percent in science. Our fight at Fortune School, to successfully educate children, particularly Black children is California’s fight.
However, there is a problem for Black kids going back to school in California. Our state funds public schools based on student demographics, giving more money to the schools that serve kids lawmakers say need more support. Right now, 80,000 Black kids don’t qualify for extra support because they are not low-income, foster youth or English learners. If they were, the schools that serve them would get $7,000 more per child. That adds up to a $560 million funding gap for California’s Black students.
We need a school funding formula that provides more support for all Black students because as a group, our children are in crisis.
The California Democratic Party (CDP) Black Caucus is calling attention to these inequities in a special series of hearings called Black in School on the state of Black students in California public schools and powerful ways to improve the Black experience. The CDP Black Caucus is right to call for change.
As a public school educator, I encourage parents and guardians of Black children to become partners with their schools. This must happen now more than ever. From understanding achievement and funding gaps, to learning how to advocate for your child, we need to be here for each other – teaching, learning, and lifting ourselves as we continue to navigate together in these unprecedented times. Support the CDP Black Caucus as they continue to fight for the rights of all Black students who attend public schools in California. Together we can create the systemic changes that are critical for our children’s futures.
For more information about the Black in School series, visit https://cdpblackcaucus.org/.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Margaret Fortune is the President/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college. She is a State Delegate on the California Democratic Party (CDP) State Central Committee where she also is an elected member of the Executive Board of the CDP Black Caucus. Fortune is Treasurer of National Action Network (NAN) Sacramento and has been an education advisor to two California Governors. She is a graduate of the UC Berkeley and Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government.