A Washington state school board member who studies equity issues in public education laid out a game plan to encourage Kentucky boards to use an “equity lens” in the work they do in their districts.
Equity and equality are different concepts, Tukwila school board member Mary Fertakis explained in a KSBA pre-conference training session: Equality gives everyone the same thing, but it only works if everyone starts from the same place. Equity gives access to the same opportunities and must be ensured before equality can be enjoyed. “Giving people what they need is what equity is about,” she said.
Daviess County school board member Tom Payne, left, and Paducah Independent
board Vice Chairman Felix Akojie follow up with presenter Mary Fertakisfollowing her
pre-conference session on Framing the Equity Conversation for Today and Our Future.
The two terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably, even by legislators, said Fertakis, who also is a consultant to the National School Boards Association.
The distinction is important for boards who want to address the issue through policy and in the allocation of resources throughout the district. “All of this impacts what we do with space, time, people, dollars,” she said. “So the question we have to ask policy people is, is it more fair to treat people equally or recognize the differential need, differences, and allocate resources to compensate for that.”
To understand current inequities, it’s important to understand Kentucky’s history, Fertakis said. She reviewed the state’s racial history, starting with its first constitution that contained provisions protecting slave ownership, and subsequent constitutions that continued those protections in overt ways and in less overt ways that produced the same effect. The summary included Jim Crow laws, laws reinforcing racial segregation in public schools and controlling movement of blacks, and other laws designed to criminalize and incarcerate so as to commit African Americans to involuntary labor. This pattern also encompasses urban renewal that destroyed black communities.