Why should middle-class parents care about educational equity? As my son and I toured colleges over spring break, I was once again struck with the stark contrasts between the experiences of middle-class and poor students in Oakland public schools.
And, once again, I was reminded why the Legislature must pass Local Control Funding Formula, Gov. Jerry Brown's solution to the inequitable mess that is California's school finance system.
My son is a junior at Skyline High School in Oakland, where three-quarters of the students are poor, a quarter are learning English and almost half don't graduate. I asked my son about the college plans of one of his classmates, an outstanding leader in many activities. My son replied: "Well, I'm not sure how easy it is for him to keep his grades up. The last time we talked, his power had been shut off for two weeks."
Can you imagine trying to keep up with school work, not to mention extracurricular activities, with no electricity in your house?
Stating emphatically that "Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice," Brown proposed a revolutionary revision to California's antiquated formula for funding public schools. Local Control Funding Formula would give all California school districts a boost in funding, but would give supplemental funds to districts with high numbers of students who are poor, learning English or living in foster care. The proposal has now been encapsulated into Assembly Bill 88.
For Oakland, Local Control Funding Formula means the state would increase per pupil spending by almost $4,000 annually, or 54 percent. Combined with a proposal to allow districts flexibility in how they spend the extra funds to help students with the highest needs, this proposal is the most significant reform to education funding in 40 years.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, who represents wealthier school districts in Lamorinda and San Ramon, has spoken out against the reform. Calling the move a "diversion from the 'burbs," she worries that Brown's reforms could diminish "distinguished schools" in her district, rather than lifting up underperforming districts.
It's true, we need to continue to fight for increased education funding overall to counter decades of starvation.
This will take time. In the meantime, students from these suburban districts will continue to thrive and have access to college, while too many students in Oakland and other districts like it will continue to drop out in droves because there is not enough funding to address their greater educational needs.
Despite attending underfunded public schools in Oakland, my children have and will do fine, in part because they enjoy consistent electric power, among other privileges.
I'm advocating for the passage of Local Control Funding Formula because I believe that every child deserves an excellent education, no matter where they live.
The consequences of our current system -- namely, 50 percent drop out rate for black and Latino students -- affects all of us. Whether we live in the hills or the flatlands, these young people represent the future and quality of life for all of us.
Melia Franklin is the founder and executive director of Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network, a nonprofit organization promoting educational equity and parent of three Oakland public school students.