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SCA 5: A bad idea that covers up a worse problem

By Senator Bob Huff | 4/4/2014, midnight

In January, the California Senate voted in favor of SCA 5, a state constitutional amendment to allow race-based admission and hiring practices at our colleges and universities.

I don’t support SCA 5 because I don’t believe race-based policies do anything to bring fairness and equality to our public school system. In fact, it’s my belief that SCA 5 is little more than an effort to cover up the real problem that’s going on in our public schools. There are existing policies in our K-12 schools that hurt minority and lower-income students, which are the real problem.

Republicans acknowledge that our school system is set up against groups living in lower-income areas; it’s been a goal of mine since becoming a member of the legislature to combat this inequality. That fight is far from over.

We’re also aware that although the number of minorities attending University of California campuses has increased and has exceeded the levels of minority admissions since 1996, the African American student population at UC’s has remained flat at about 4 percent. We’re open to having a serious dialogue about these issues.

But there are some problems that need to be addressed: with teacher seniority, tenure, and other work rules set up the way they are, teachers select their job assignments at the most desirable schools. Schools with the greatest challenges, such as those with families where both parents work, and families with lower-income parents, are the schools that end up with the worst teachers. There is an unequal distribution of education in California.

As a result, many African American students graduating from high school aren’t prepared the way kids from better schools are. Even though they technically qualify with basic requirements, they reach the UC and CSU inadequately prepared many needing remedial courses. Some students manage to find a great mentorship program to help keep up with their studies, but those who don’t or can’t find the time for such help—often because they have to work while going to school— get left behind or end up dropping out.

Take a look at the graduation rates for African Americans at the CSU and UC level. Only 38 percent of African Americans graduate from UC within four years and an abysmal 8 percent from CSU. In our California community colleges, after six years of going to class, only 14 percent of incoming students are leaving with an A.A., a transfer to a four year school, or a technical certificate.

But instead of tackling the root problem, Sacramento policymakers have been overcome by pressure from special interests, to simply lower school standards and redefine success. That keeps kids moving through the system, and lends cheap talking points about how “X” percentage of kids graduate. Then they can brag about how many graduates make it into college, whether those kids are really ready or not.

Our students deserve better than being used for political points. Our kids deserve the reforms—reforms that I keep pushing—to make sure they get a world-class education. That’s why for years I have been pushing to provide better public school options for students and ensure every classroom has the best teacher possible.

The closer we get to true equality of opportunity throughout our K-12 public schools, the less we’ll need to consider returning to race-based goals. We need more diversity in our higher education system, but the problem is much more complicated than the cover up offered by SCA 5.

Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) serves as the Senate Republican Leader in the California State Senate.