California Black Media | January 14, 2023
(CBM) – State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Tony Thurmond took the oath of office to begin his second term on Jan. 7 at a ceremony conducted at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles.
Thurmond oversees the education of 6 million PreK-12 students in over one thousand public school districts across California.
Although SPI is a non-partisan office, T`hurmond drew support from many of the state’s top Democrats in his bid for re-election, including from Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and several members of the California Legislative Black Caucus. He was also endorsed by unions across the state, including the California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association.
United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona performed the ceremonial swearing in of Thurmond, who then reflected on his path to the office. The son of a Panamanian immigrant mother and Vietnam veteran father, who did not return to his family after the war – Thurmond and his brother were raised by their cousin and relied on public assistance programs and public schools to make it out of poverty.
“I am standing on the shoulders of those relatives who struggle and sacrifice so that we could have a better life,” Thurmond said after he was sworn in. “It was the sacrifices of teachers and classified staff and childcare workers and school administrators who make it possible for me to stand here today as your public servant fighting for 6 million students in the great state of California.”
Thurmond’s first term coincided with one of the most tumultuous periods in California’s history — a time, he says, that brought with it many unforeseen challenges.
“We all watched it together. The lives lost and impacted and disrupted by the pandemic,” Thurmond said before pointing out other cultural, social and political developments the country endured as the COVID-19 crisis intensified.
“The killing of George Floyd, fighting hate against the Asian American Pacific Islander community, racism targeted directly to African American families, anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of Latino families, immigrant families, we have seen so much hate all in such a short period of time that we would move into a pandemic and find out that, in a state with all the wealth that we have in California, that a million students could be without a computer,” Thurmond added. “That is the most important thing that they needed to be connected in those early days through remote learning.”
Thurmond says his administration stepped up to address challenges presented by the pandemic.
“We know that the impact this has had clearly affected student proficiency levels where they are now compared to where they were a few years before the pandemic and of course, a deep, deep impact on the mental health of our students and our families,” he said.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety and hospitalizations for children and it has been difficult for them,” Thurmond continued. “But our children are more than the sum of their circumstances. They’ve demonstrated their resiliency, and they’re on the path to recovery, and we’re going to help them with that because we just secured enough money to recruit 10,000 counselors for our schools in the state of California.”
The addition of counselors is good news for teachers across the state seeking resources to help their students recover and develop in areas outside of academics where school also plays a crucial role for many students. “I was very excited when superintendent Thurman said that there would be 10,000 counselors coming to the school sites because we need that. The emotional health of our students, that is important, that is very important,” said elementary school math teacher and California Teacher of the Year award recipient Bridgette Donald-Blue to California Black Media.
The SPI does not have any legislative role. But Thurmond, who served in the California State Assembly for two terms, sponsored or endorsed several legislative initiatives that may have a profound effect on the future of education in California and the role that schools play to meet the social and emotional needs of students to provide a positive learning environment.
Thurmond says, beginning in the 2022–23 school year, the California Universal School Meal Program will help all students to reach their full academic potential by providing a nutritiously adequate breakfast and lunch at no charge for all children each school day regardless of individual eligibility.
Thurmond also has initiatives to combat inequities in the school system including universal preschool for 4-year-olds regardless of background, race, zip code, immigration status, or income level. He also launched the Black Student Achievement Taskforce to help quantify the impacts systemic and institutional racism have had on Black students in California.
Thurmond points out that he sponsored legislation to increase funding to the lowest performing students, ban suspension and expulsions in preschools, and secured $90 million for suspensions and chronic absenteeism programming.
“I know the impacts of what happens when our students don’t learn to read by third grade. Sadly, they end up dropping out in many cases and in the criminal justice system, and we’re going to change the narrative and flip the script. We’re going to educate, not incarcerate our kids.” Thurmond repeated a pledge for today’s kindergarteners to be able to read by third grade,” he said.
Recently, some education advocates pointed out that there has been a reported wave of retirements and disincentives that have led to an unprecedented teacher shortage across the nation. In response, Thurmond says he is creating new incentives to draw qualified people into the school system to help students, especially those who are of color.
“We’re offering scholarships for anyone who wants to become a teacher. $20,000,” Thurmond told California Black Media. “I sponsored a bill, HB 520, that was focused on how we get more male educators of color. And that bill turned into funding in the state budget. That now means our residency programs can be used to help have male educators of color as part of the beneficiaries of that program.”
California Ed Chief Tony Thurmond’s Equity Initiatives Gain National Recognition
Joe W. Bowers Jr. | California Black Media | Posted: June 11, 2022
California is the winner of the 2022 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation.
The nation’s preeminent education award for innovation, it recognizes a state for enacting reforms or implementing programs that go beyond marginal or incremental changes to improve student outcomes on a large scale.
According to the Education Commission of the States, California is being recognized for “its coordinated approach to educating all students from preschool to postsecondary, with explicit attention toward whole-child supports and services, as well as its historic financial investments to ensure educational equity.”
In his press release announcing the win, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said, “This is an incredible honor, and while the work continues, we’re proud of this national recognition that shows how California is
improving educational outcomes for its students, closing equity gaps, and transforming education for students from pre-kindergarten to adulthood.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose administration has made funding public education a priority, acknowledged receiving the award by saying, “California is transforming education from pre-kindergarten through to college and beyond, empowering students and families with more supports, more choices, and more opportunities. This award recognizes the hard work that’s gone into this transformative change by leaders throughout the state…. and the winners here are California’s kids and parents.”
The Newman Award announcement coincided with school districts finalizing their 2022-23 budgets which were due at their County Office of Education by June 30. Their budgets are bolstered by the highest level of funding in state history for all K-12 education programs – $128.6 billion is being allocated. Per pupil spending is $22,893 an all-time high.
The award recognized California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) as one of the nation’s most equitable formulas. LCFF allocates more resources to school districts educating low-income students. In this year’s state budget, school districts are receiving a $9.0 billion increase in ongoing LCFF funding, a 13% base increase over 2021-22 rates.
The award noted that in the last two years, California has approved increases to the LCFF allowing school districts to add more teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and other student support providers.
A letter nominating the state for the award read, “… [W]e believe there is no other state doing as much to advance educational equity for its neediest students as California is doing today.”
Since taking office in 2019, Thurmond has championed and created initiatives taking into consideration the unique needs California’s students. In order to achieve equity and transformative change he has promoted mental health programs, community schools, literacy, expanded learning
programs, professional development, anti-racism training, and universal schools and universal meals programs.
Thurmond told California Black Media (CBM) that, “Starting out my goal was to figure out how to support Black students wherever they are in the state.” His Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap has been the source of a number of recommendations advancing equity for all students.
Task Force recommendations include:
Supporting literacy as a strategy for closing the gap. In 2021 Thurmond launched a campaign committed to ensuring all students read by third grade by 2026. This effort includes securing funds for literacy supports and school libraries as well as for family engagement supports for literacy. This year’s budget includes $250 million to be spent over 5 years to hire literacy coaches and reading specialists for low-income elementary schools, and to implement evidence-based literacy strategies for preschool through third grade students and their families.
Diversifying the teacher workforce. Thurmond developed and sponsored AB 520 (Mike Gipson, D-Carson), which called for expanding male educators of color. This bill was embedded into the 2021 budget which allocated $350 million in residency grants for teacher preparation programs with an emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce. $184 million in new funding for teacher residencies is included in the 2022-23 budget and eligibility is expanded include to counselors.
Expanding funding for Community Schools. In 2019 Thurmond wrote and sponsored AB 1196 (Gipson) to fund Community Schools. In 2021, Thurmond worked with Newsom on a proposal to expand community schools. The 2021 budget allocated $3 Billion for Community Schools and the California Department of Education (CDE) is currently implementing the community schools’ strategy. An additional $1.13 Billion was authorized in this year’s budget.
Providing professional development to help close the achievement grant. Thurmond helped to secure $1.5 Billion in Educator Effectiveness Grants to
support professional development for educators to help close learning gaps. CDE has awarded the Educator Effectiveness Grants and is working with districts to implement this strategy.
Expanding mental health programs. Thurmond sponsored SB 1229 (McGuire, D-Healdsburg) which would fund $25,000 grants to add 10,000 mental health clinicians to serve California students. Provisions of SB 1229 have been folded into the 2022-23 budget legislation as part of teacher and school counselor residency programs. The current Golden State Teacher Grant Program is expanded to include mental health providers authorizing them to receive grants up to $20,000.
Expanding Pre-school programs. Thurmond sponsored AB 22 (McCarty, D-Sacramento) a bill that guarantees Universal Transitional Kindergarten. Thurmond and CDE are now implementing the policy. This year’s budget expands transitional kindergarten eligibility and rebenches the Proposition 98 Guarantee to $611 Million to accommodate enrollment increases. Also, $383
Million is approved to reduce the adult-to-student ratio for transitional kindergarten.
Expanding Dual language immersion programs. Thurmond wrote and is sponsoring SB 952 (Limón, D-Santa Barbara) a bill that helps schools expand into dual language immersion programs. This bill is a priority bill for the Latino Caucus.
Piloting implicit bias programs. Thurmond secured $10 million in the 2021 state budget for funds for districts to provide anti-bias training.
Reducing chronic absenteeism. Thurmond secured grant funds to provide Oakland and Inglewood Unified School Districts resources needed to contact families with chronically absent students.
The Education Commission of the States will present California leaders with the Newman Award at the 2022 National Forum on Education Policy being held July 13-15 in Washington, D.C.