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Virginia 2020 Budget Language Requires Governor’s Schools to Submit Diversity Goals Plan to Gov. Northam by Oct. 1

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Earlier today, I wrote about how, this past Monday, Fairfax County Public Schools posted admission information for the the Class of 2024 at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (aka, “TJ”), and that the numbers show only 3.3% Hispanic students and ZERO African-American students admitted. Since then, I had the opportunity to chat with Virginia’s Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, about this situation. Qarni definitely is taking this seriously, is working to address it, and thinks we’re starting to see some movement, and expects more in coming weeks. But, clearly, this isn’t an issue that started yesterday nor that will be resolved overnight.

Just to give a flavor for the socioeconomic makeup of these schools, check out the following statistics that Qarni sent me on the percentage of “disadvantaged” (“Free and Reduced Lunch”) students attending Governor’s Schools the past few years.

  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (“TJ”): 2.4% in 2013-2014, 2.0% in 2014-2015, 2.2% in 2015-2016, 2.2% in 2016-2017, 2.1% in 2017-2018, 2.5% in 2018-2019. So…not much movement over the years at “TJ” on this metric.
  • Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School: 3.1% in 2013-2014, 3.8% in 2014-2015, 4.6% in 2015-2016, 4.4% in 2016-2017, 5.3% in 2017-2018; 7.1% in 2018-2019. There definitely seems to be an increase at this school, from 3.1% in 2013-2014 to 7.1% in 2018-2019.
  • New Horizon Governor’s School in Hampton was at 9.0% “disadvantaged” in 2013-2014 and also in 2018-2019…steady over these years.
  • A. Linwood Holton Governor’s School in Big Stone Gap was at 24.4% in 2013-2014 and 26.6% in 2018-2019…a slight increase over that time period.
  • Roanoke Valley Governor’s School in Roanoke was at 5.3% in 2013-2014, rising slightly to 5.9% in 2018-2019.

So, generally, there haven’t been major shifts in the socioeconomic makeup of these schools over the past few years. From talking to Secretary of Education Qarni, though, I can definitely say that this issue is very much on the Northam Administration’s radar screen, that they’re looking at ways to address it, and that we should expect more news in coming weeks.

One thing – not huge, but signicant nonetheless – that’s already happened is in the 2020 Virginia budget. Check out this language in the 2020 budget bill, under the “Governor’s School Payments” section (bolding added by me for emphasis):

“Each Academic Year Governor’s School shall set diversity goals for its student body and faculty, and develop a plan to meet said goals in collaboration with community partners at public meetings. Each school shall submit a report to the Governor by October 1 of each year on its goals and status of implementing its plan. The report shall include, but not be limited to the following: utilization of universal screenings in feeder divisions; admission processes in place or under consideration that promote access for historically underserved students; and outreach and communication efforts deployed to recruit historically underserved students. The report shall include the racial/ethnic make-up and socioeconomic diversity of its students, faculty, and applicants.”

Of course, as Secretary of Education Qarni noted in our conversation, the state doesn’t have a huge amount of budgetary leverage over Governor’s Schools – since most of their money comes from localities – but still, this is language takes a first step, even if it’s a relatively small step, in pushing TJ and other Governor’s Schools to move on this issue. It’s going to be interesting to see how “TJ” and others responds to this; what processes, etc. they come up with; and what type of “collaboration with community partners at public meetings” takes place (e.g., would be great to see a schedule of their upcoming public meetings). Stay tuned.

By the way, I’ve been trying to find out what – if anything – the Fairfax County School Board is up to on the “TJ” situation. I’ll let you all know what (if anything) I hear, which I certainly hope will include figuring out a way to admit some African American students to the class of 2024. Because, it should go without saying, ZERO is not in any way/shape/form acceptable. What *would* be acceptable? Ultimately, it would be great to see “TJ” more closely reflect the demographics of the area it serves (Fairfax is nearly 10% African American and around 16% Latinx). To do that, though, it seems to me like Fairfax is going to have to really put some resources behind “One Fairfax” (a policy which “commits the county and schools to intentionally consider equity when making policies or delivering programs and services”), not just nice words…