Money Matters: Prioritizing Equity and Opportunity for Students of Color in the 2023-24 California Budget

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At The Education Trust—West, we’re dedicated to a more equitable California for the students who have been systematically shut out from opportunity. To make our educational systems more equitable for Black, Latinx, and Native American students living in poverty – money matters. 

For years, schools and colleges serving students of color have been starved of the resources they need, which has only exacerbated opportunity gaps. Now, after years of budget surpluses and historic investments in educational equity, policymakers faced the challenge of adopting a balanced budget with a $31.7 billion deficit. In a deficit year, it is even more critical that education budgets are protected, and funds are directed to the students who need it most. Here we take a look at the important investments for California’s most underserved students in the final 2023-2024 state budget.   

Early Learning and Care 

The 2023-2024 California budget makes significant investments in our child care system, supporting providers and families who are still in dire need of relief from the long-lasting effects of COVID. While the initial proposed January budget did not seem as promising, thanks to advocates, the final state budget continues policies that provided lifelines to families of color.

The final budget includes $22 million to reimburse providers based on enrollment rather than attendance (enrollment is more steady than attendance, and thus funding based on enrollment is stable and reliable). This will continue to provide stability for providers who are predominantly women of color, as well as low-income.

An additional $29.4 million was provided to continue waiving family fees until the end of September and an additional $56 million to revise the family fee schedule starting in October. According to the Department of Finance Budget Summary, this new policy will “limit fees to one percent of families’ monthly income and prohibit fee assessment for families with an adjusted monthly income below 75 percent of state median income”. The budget also forgives any pre-COVID family fee debt. Low-income working families will continue to receive financial relief from burdensome fees that oftentimes create extreme financial barriers for them.

Lastly, the budget includes $2.8 billion for reimbursements to providers over a 2-year period. The vast majority of providers are women of color who receive below poverty wages for their work. While this investment does not solve the long-term problem, the state has taken a great step in temporarily moving towards paying providers for the true cost of care.

While the budget does not include ongoing and sustainable funding for the early learning field long-term, we recognize that in a difficult budget year, the administration and legislature demonstrated their commitment to families of color whose livelihoods depend on child care. As the legislature continues to address this long-standing crisis in the field, they should explore a commitment for ongoing funding that would allow for providers to be paid for the true cost of care. Additionally, as the state moves forward with implementing the new rate structure, the process needs to prioritize engagement with providers of color.

TK-12 

The final 2023-2024 state budget made some important changes that will strengthen the work of local educational agencies (LEAs) to close opportunity and achievement gaps. First, LEAs will now be required to include actions in their Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) to address low levels of student and school performance, as reflected by student groups receiving the lowest performance rating on indicators on the California School Dashboard. The budget also clarifies the purpose of the LCAP is to address disparities in student achievement. Secondly, an additional $300 million (called the Equity Multiplier ) will be allocated for high-need schools identified according to the percentage of students enrolled for fewer than 245 continuous days and socioeconomic characteristics of the students, such as their parents not having a high school diploma. For schools receiving Equity Multiplier funds, LEAs will be required to address student groups performing at the lowest level on the California School Dashboard, along with addressing teacher preparation, credentialing, and retention in the LCAP. And third, at least two LEAs will be selected and funded to serve as lead agencies to support and assist the work of other LEAs to address racial disparities in student achievement, especially in Equity Multiplier schools.

As the State Board of Education implements these improvements through changes to the LCAP template and instructions, advocates should push for revisions to the LCAP that make the newly required planning as transparent as possible to stakeholders. For example, if an LEA is rated at the lowest level in math for Black students, the LCAP template should require the LEA to clearly identify the actions they are planning to specifically support Black students to improve their math proficiency. We also hope to see the California Department of Education and the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence uplift proven, evidence-based strategies and programs that support student racial groups to achieve at high levels; LEAs can draw from these best practices in identifying actions specific to student groups.

Higher Education

California’s higher education system was largely protected from cuts in this year’s budget, and Governor Newsom deserves credit for delivering on his promises to provide predictable operating budget increases for the state’s public colleges and universities  The final state budget maintains the proposed five percent increase for the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) and an 8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the California Community Colleges (CCC), consistent with the multi-year compacts (UC and CSU) and the Multi-year Roadmap (CCC) agreed to last year. Base increases will help colleges and universities navigate post-pandemic challenges and we commend lawmakers for balancing these new investments with firmer accountability and transparency measures. We continue to emphasize the importance of setting race-conscious goals as accountability measures in these multi-year funding agreements to ensure campuses make progress toward closing equity gaps in access and graduation.   

The governor’s original budget proposal included a one-time increase of $200 million for California Community Colleges to support focused strategies to increase student retention rates and enrollment. After negotiations with the Legislature, the final budget instead included changes to consolidate 2022-23 investments for deferred maintenance, retention and enrollment, and turns a COVID response block grant into a flexible block grant that can be used for any of these purposes. As colleges look towards recovery following a historical decline in enrollment, we recommend they prioritize these investments for the following high-impact racial equity strategies:  

  • Implementation of equitable placement and completion reforms (AB 705 and AB 1705);  
  • Establishing or expanding dual enrollment partnerships in ways that increase the representation of Black, Native, and Latinx students; and  
  • Providing additional support to pregnant and parenting students (e.g., on-campus childcare, improved financial aid packages, etc.). 

Lastly, regarding financial aid, the state is backing up recent strides towards college affordability by funding additional staffing and programming for the California Student Aid Commission. The final budget included funding for additional capacity at the Commission – in part through enhanced support for the State’s Cash for College Program, which provides direct assistance to students and families to complete financial aid applications. These investments will ensure we protect the previous historic investments in financial aid from recent years and support local efforts to implement California’s universal financial aid application completion requirements (AB 469 and 2021 Budget). These resources are critical to building the statewide infrastructure needed to expand financial aid application completion efforts and improve completion rates over the coming years.  

Next year, the State will determine if there are available revenues to fund Cal Grant Reform, which was approved in the 2022 Budget Act and would expand access to financial aid for 150,000 MORE low-income students, a majority of whom are students of color. We invite advocates and partners to join us in calling on lawmakers to make good on their promise of fully funding Cal Grant reform next year.

We are glad that the final 2023-2024 California budget included notable investments in education equity even as revenues declined. Such investments in a revenue-challenged year would not be possible without the concerted effort of advocates around the state, along with equity-minded legislators. We thank the many partners, supporters, and fellow advocates who worked hard to ensure California’s leaders prioritized students We at Ed TrustWest will continue to monitor and provide updates on the implementation of these investments.  

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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.