In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were inherently unequal. Today, African American students in California experience a different form of inequality. Generally they underperform other students, especially when they are also low income:

California will spend $95 billion this year on K-12 education, more than $16,000 per student. But only half that money reaches classrooms, in significant part because billions of dollars are being diverted to unfunded pensions and other retirement costs. That leaves too little for current teachers, the impact of which is disproportionately detrimental to low-income students whose parents cannot afford to provide additional support.

Another problem is that under-performing teachers are spared from dismissal and pay isn’t differentiated for teachers in high poverty schools. Low-income students often need higher performing teachers but school districts in California are prevented from dismissing poorly performing staff and employing the carrots needed to field enough higher performing teachers and paying them more for taking on more challenging environments.

The California State Legislature can fix these problems, which affect schools in every county. With just 62 votes in the legislature and approval from the governor they could (i) enable school districts to boost spending on current teachers by suspending pension increases for retirees and reducing un-accrued benefits, (ii) permit school districts to differentiate pay and support and to stop granting permanent employment after two years, and (iii) permit principals to terminate under-performing employees. Also, to free up more money for current teachers the state should set an example for school districts by utilizing the state health insurance exchange (Covered California) when providing health coverage for retired employees.

This week will mark 50 years since the assassination of the most courageous American political leader of my lifetime, Martin Luther King. California legislators should mark the occasion by acting to provide African American and other students with the quality educations they deserve.