The Historical Importance of HBCU’s – A Discussion with Van Jones and Dr. Michael Lomax

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Historically Black Colleges and Universities have received increased attention this week, after a majority of the 104 HBCU presidents accepted an invitation to the oval office to meet with President Trump.

A lot of people weren’t happy with that meeting and a statement from John Silvanus Wilson Jr., president of Morehouse, seems to indicate that the meeting and Trump’s executive order on HBCU’s won’t signal much of a change in funding, or address issues like boosting pell grants or setting up an HBCU innovation fund as the presidents had hoped.

Rather than highlighting the important work that HBCU’s do and have done throughout their existence, the meeting mostly led to social media outrage.

Back in October of 2016, we had political commentator and activist Van Jones as a guest host on the ‘Rock the Schools’ podcast to lead a discussion with Dr. Michael Lomax of the UNCF about the historical and current importance of HCBU’s and a report they released titled “Building Better Narratives in Black Education”.

Instead of getting caught up in social media driven controversy such as the feet-on-couch-scandal, take a listen to the full conversation:

You can drag HBCU presidents for meeting with Donald Trump, but don’t ignore their struggles for our people

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If you were dying of thirst and some stranger rolled up to give you a tall glass of water, how would you feel about it?

What if the person giving you the water hated Mexicans, Muslims, lesbians, gays, transgendered or gender nonconforming children, black protesters, black people who vote, women, married women who resist genital grabbing men, white women who think for themselves, people who read, the media, and Rosie O’Donnell?

Such is the life of presidents leading America’s historically black colleges and universities recently invited to the White House. They are fighting for the survival of their institutions, often alone, and now they are suffering indignant Twitter challenges to their integrity because they met with Donald Trump.

“You’ve been used for a photo opp” many of the Twitter millennials – and some older people who act like Twitter millennials – are saying.

If you aren’t clear, Twitter millennials are always intellectually on point, morally pure, and insufferably “woke.” Especially the lucky few that make it through college (often through HBCUs) only to travel the country Snapchatting their picture-perfect meals while ignoring email soliciting contributions to the colleges they rep on t-shirts.

If only their activism was focused, practical, and aligned with the fight HBCU presidents are having to keep the lights on for a 150 year tradition of black self-determination in education.

University of Pennsylvania’s Marybeth Gassman, quoted in the Business Insider, says “HBCUs often struggle because they have fewer resources than other colleges — typically due to lower endowments and less money coming in from alumni giving.”

The same article points to inequitable funding from government, citing a piece by Donald Mitchell, Jr comparing ”the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill’s $15,700 in state funding per student” versus “North Carolina A&T University’s $7,800 in state funding per student.

It’s doubtful that Trump found Jesus on this issue for himself. Realty television celebrity (and ordained pastor) Omarosa Manigault, herself an alum of Howard University, is suspected to be the point of origin for his calculating interest in throwing a bone to black education.

According to HBCU Digest the result will be an executive order promising increased support for HBSCUs, one that bills itself as “among the most progressive partnerships between the White House and HBCUs in decades.”

It’s going to be huuuuge.

I’m not so sure, but I’m happy to see “White House Initiative on HBCUs” might move from out of the Department of Education’s basement and into the actual White House.
Ironically, and painfully, this showy display of Trump’s love for black colleges is in bizarre contrast to eight years of President Obama’s record.

HBCU presidents have complained for almost a decade that the needs of their institutions, and their students, were not only neglected by the White House, but in some cases they were harmed.

Black college students and HBCUs were disproportionately impacted by the Obama administration’s changes to the time span students could use Pell Grants, and his stricter guidelines for government-backed student loans to low-income families.

Those defending Obama’s record will point out he increased funds for HBCU students by $1 billion. That’s true and you should be thankful for it.

Critics, though, will remind you that it wasn’t all perfect. During the same time, our Ivy League educated “first black president” often slid into discomforting paternalism and reminded his incredibly loyal black voters that he was the president of America, not black America. He scolded us about being better parents; told us to stop complaining, pull up our pants, take off our slippers, and get to work – for him.

We obliged like good soldiers even if it felt like a slap to our esteem. It’s what we do.

Nobody felt the agglomeration of that relationship more than HBCU leaders who never received the support you might expect from a president that enjoyed nearly universal black support.

Now HBCU leaders must pivot and make the best of yet another intricate relationship, this time with an incomparably problematic president who offers thirsty people water for political reasons (see Nixon’s overture to black capitalism for a parallel).

If I were leading a historically black college and I was asked to attend a meeting with the highest elected official on planet Earth, I would go and be there early. I would resist lazy activism or childish displays of oppositional defiance that promise no gains for my constituents. I would stubbornly keep the main thing (producing more black college graduates), the main thing (producing more black college graduates!!!).

Regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, we must stay focused on our permanent interests, and the survival of black schools is definitely one of those interests.

If you want a detailed list of tangible policy aims to bolster HBCUs and their students, the UNCF (as always) has you covered. Their memo to President-elect Donald Trump from December 2016 details 10 actionable goals we all should support.

If all you want to do is be Twitter-famous for talking nonsense about people who are doing more than you increase the number of educated black people, no one can help you.

All I can tell you is that if Twitter had been active when Booker T. Washington was building black educational institutions more than a century ago – the institutions that created successive waves of middle class black intellectuals, professionals, and yes, Twitter activists – we might not have HBCUs today.

Luckily we have always had leaders that knew how to keep their eyes on the prize. Sometimes you just have to drink the unholy water and pray your people will have some grace about your sacrifices.

Local property tax policies affect education funding and equity in a major way

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A new report from EdBuild titled “Building Equity: Fairness in Property Tax Effort for Education” analyzes the way public schools are funded via property taxes and how this affects school funding equity.

“Close to half of public school dollars in the United States are raised locally, mostly from local property taxes. But not all property tax bills are created equal. In some states, tax rates are fairly similar across districts, while in other states, property owners in one district may be putting in twice the tax effort as those in another.”

Those disparities in “tax effort” for education funding are a key emphasis for the report, which aims to determine whether the burden put on poorer districts is more than their wealthier counterparts. The findings do show a “regressive” tax rate overall in education funding from property taxes, meaning a majority of the states studied had lower tax rates in wealthier neighborhoods, but that’s not the main takeaway.

The key problem highlighted in the report is the taxation of non-residential property, like businesses, factories, and farms. The state-by-state analysis shows that districts “often fail to effectively leverage the non-residential property tax base for school funding.”

Simplified, it often occurs that districts fail to have progressive tax rates on high value properties, meaning they need to make up the difference in education funding with higher taxes on areas that already have smaller tax bases.

So, while equitable education funding should look like this:

Instead, it ends up looking like this:

When this happens, the state’s education funding is inherently unfair. Higher value properties and parts of town aren’t contributing their fair share of school funding, either limiting overall funding or increasing the burden on needier areas.

This report shows that states have a real capability to increase equity in education funding (or do the opposite) based on a few key policies:

  1. Including non-residential property taxes in the conversation around funding.
  2. Guiding and limiting districts’ local tax rates to promote fairness in tax effort.
  3. Taking into consideration the income levels of local taxpayers and setting relative, progressive tax rates for education funds.
  4. The final point of policy revolves around how the state determines each district’s needed budget, and how much they pay toward that total. Essentially, this will determine the tax burden that is put on the local taxpayers.

The general concept of property tax driven education funding seems to be intrinsically inequitable. But, if it is to continue to serve as the model, states must take steps to craft policy that balance the dollars going to districts and the tax burden placed on all citizens.

“If public education is meant to provide every child, no matter his or her background, with the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, then funding for public schools must be raised in a way that is aligned with this mission: fairly and equitably, in a manner that supports rather than harms needy communities.” – Building Equity: Fairness in Property Tax Effort for Education

How is it fair that poorer communities shoulder a greater tax burden than wealthier ones, while often still having their students receive fewer resources?

To see the full report and how states vary on their levels of fairness in educational funding: read more.

 

NAACP’s Charter School Task Force Meets Resistance in Los Angeles

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Hands off our charter schools!

That was the message delivered to the NAACP by charter parents, students and educators in an outdoor press conference ahead of the civil rights organization’s education hearing held at the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters. The NAACP is currently engaged in a series of hearings around the country to hear from a variety of experts and community members about the organization’s call for a moratorium on charter schools.

That moratorium, passed by the historic civil rights group in October of 2016, has received heavy push-back from the African-American community as well as charter advocates who argue that it doesn’t align with the well-documented attitudes of parents who want more educational choices for their children.

The news conference, organized by the California Charter School Association, featured signs, t-shirts and pointed speeches condemning the NAACP policy. Students shared success stories of overcoming adversity at home and in their communities which they attributed to their charter schools. Educators spoke of the flexibility they have to customize their programs to the needs of their students.

“Black children have found solace in attending charter programs and many are finding greater acceptance and achieving greater victories” – Carmen Taylor Jones, National Council of Negro Women.

Educators and administrators from local charter schools also gave impassioned pleas to the NAACP to reconsider their call for a halt on expansion of the sector, noting charters are a viable option having positive results for many marginalized communities in California.

Following the press conference outside, the community members filled in the L.A. Police Department Auditorium, to take part in the hearing on charter schools and educational quality.

Margaret Fortune, CEO of Fortune School of Education, a network of K-12 public charter schools focused on closing the African American achievement gap, gave perhaps the most passionate testimony to the task force. In a reoccurring theme for the charter advocates that spoke, she noted that she is a card-holding member of the organization, but could not wrap her head around the idea that they would call for a halt to a system that is showing results with so many Black children.

“The charters and public schools today have to work together. Charter schools exist because of dissatisfaction with public schools” – George McKenna, LAUSD District 1 Board Member. 

Fortune and several others who gave testimony lamented the division caused by the moratorium, noting that it was a “distraction” that was dividing, rather than empowering the community to work together to fight for quality education regardless of school type.

Similar to the most recent hearing in Orlando, Florida, the task force listened to testimony from a variety of speakers advocating both for and against the moratorium. Speakers at this event included charter school founders and advocates, teachers union representatives, school board members and unlike the previous hearing, a relatively large group of parents, teachers, and students.

The final segment of the hearing, a time designated for comments and questions from these stakeholders, showed more of the division between those in attendance, with speakers alternating between supporting and condemning the charter moratorium.

One thing was clear from the outset: these California charter families and advocates have and will continue to organize to stop the NAACP and any other body from limiting their educational options.

BREAKING: President Trump signs executive order repealing Common Core state standards

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During last year’s presidential campaign then-candidate Donald Trump said “Common Core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue.”

Today he made good on his campaign promise to end those controversial standards.

Advocates for the standards were dismayed, but not shocked by the move. Earlier today Trump’s “Counselor,” Kellyanne Conway, signaled the repeal was coming, telling CNN the president would soon take action.

“He wants to repeal common core. He doesn’t think that federal standards are better than local and parental control,” she said.

By moving to curtail Common Core standards, Trump ends months of speculation by experts on whether or not the president has the power to halt federally mandated curriculum and education standards by the stroke of a pen.

Last year, on the heels of Trump’s election victory, the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli doubted it could be done.

“[Common Core is] not an issue any president has much say over — academic standards are under the firm control of the state,” he wrote.

For background, the Common Core standards were authored in 2009 at a private meeting hosted by Bill Gates, in conjunction with Barack Obama, representatives from Pearson, and several back up dancers for Lady Gaga.

Critics say the intent was to confuse parents with complicated homework assignments that would leave them defenseless to help their children. That and to turn schools into “government indoctrination camps.”

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center gives voice to many anti-common core activists who fear the standards will turn children into ” homosexual slaves of a future totalitarian global government.”

For now, the White House says America’s children are safe from that threat.

Citizen Malarkey is the newest contributor to Citizen Ed. He is a suburban entrepreneur and freelance writer of news that doesn’t exist for people who don’t know better. He writes completely plausible commentary for several legitimate-looking news sites.