D.C. Council member Mary Cheh is asking the Attorney General to investigate whether it’s legal for the city to move forward with plans to invest $20 million in extra supports and programs for minority male students.
Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson in January announced an “Empowering Males of Color” initiative, including opening an all-boys college preparatory high school east of the Anacostia River in 2017.
The push, which would be partially funded through private donations, is meant to improve outcomes for Black and Latino boys, who make up 43 percent of enrollment and who lag other groups on multiple measures of performance.
In a letter sent to Attorney General Karl Racine Monday, the Ward 3 Council member said the plans raise questions about gender inequality.
“Before any money is allocated or funds spent, I am requesting that you, as Attorney General, provide an opinion on the legality of these plans,” she wrote.
Specifically, she said the plans should be evaluated for their conformity with Title IX regulations, the D.C. Human Rights Act, and the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution.
In the District, 48 percent of black male students and 57 percent of Hispanic male students graduate in four years, compared with 66 percent of their classmates. Only about a third of black male students are proficient in reading and math, according to the DC CAS scores, compared with almost 60 percent of students who are not black or Latino males.
The plan also includes school grants to support efforts to enhance the academic, social or emotional development of black and Latino male students and to engage their families.
Henderson tapped Tim King, the founder of a high-performing Chicago all-boys charter school, Urban Prep Academies, to open the all-boys high school.
The focus on minority males reflects a citywide push by Mayor Muriel Bowser to improve opportunities for young men of color, as well as a national effort by President Obama to raise private funds to support programs that help young men of color succeed in school and stay out of prison.
In an interview, Cheh said she took note of the initiative when it was first announced last month, but she said her qualms about focusing a significant amount of spending on boys grew quietly until she decided this past weekend to speak out.
“What I’m saying is that you can’t just do for one group what you’re not doing for another,” she said. “Even if their scores are a little bit better, both groups’ ( minority boys and girls) scores are abysmal. ... You have to provide substantially equal opportunities to the other group. That’s all I want. I want all of them to be better off.”