For nearly two years, presidents from Oregon’s four NAACP branches have voiced objections to how the Oregon Department of Education allocated money meant for African American students statewide.
Thursday, the State Board of Education voted for groups outside the Portland area to start receiving some of the millions of dollars legislators earmarked for black students and their families in 2015.
In a nearly-unanimous vote, the board approved the suggested changes to the African American/Black Student Success Grants.
The changes clarified how the state defines “African American,” distinguished the difference between culturally-specific and community-based organizations and specified that social welfare organizations can be included.
They also broadened the language detailing the number of students who identify as African American or black that have to be involved in the programs applying.
But the largest change was removing the limit on the number of programs that can receive a grant.
In 2015, nearly $2.7 million in general funds was allocated under House Bill 2016 with the goal to reduce the disparity in educational outcomes, including graduation rates, between black students and their white peers.
But when the money was allocated to only Portland-based groups — serving 875 of Portland’s 10,839 African American students — NAACP leaders argued the money was not equitably distributed across the state.
Read the full backstory: Oregon NAACP leaders say state did not fairly allocate funds for black students
Acting Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill clarified that while three of the four programs serve only Portland metro students, one does serve some students in Yamhill, Polk and Lane counties.
This still left more than 2,000 of Oregon’s African American students without the same financial support from the state.
“I think we can make further improvements,” Colt said during Thursday’s board meeting.
After a review of the programs in 2017, the state reapproved the same four programs for a second year of the grant program, increasing the amount to about $5 million to satisfy the length of the biennium-based budget.
The state then offered a new grant opportunity totaling $650,000 for programs outside the Portland area.
But the original grant documents specified up to only four organizations could receive money.
So when the state planned to allocate the new grants, they couldn’t.
(Photo: Natalie Pate)
“It’s really concerning to me that this opportunity was missed,” said state board Vice-chair Anthony Veliz, the only member who voted against the changes Thursday.
He argued the funding was an example of how rural areas are frequently left out. He also said the state shouldn’t put “unrealistic expectations on these dollars” since communities of color have been marginalized for years.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Veliz said.
About 80 percent of Oregon students who identify as African American or black live in Portland. In the new biennium, Colt said about 90 percent of the funds are going to programs based in Portland.
State officials said the changes passed Thursday were meant to reinforce “the original legislative intent” and “yield greater equity among applicants.”
The recipients of the newer grants were originally scheduled to be announced in November. The education department now will announce the recipients of the $650,000 in grants on Feb. 22.
Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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Oregon schools: Diversity and absenteeism up, salaries and discipline down