Since its inception, the community development financial institution industry has been committed to providing capital to help expand opportunity for historically excluded communities. In recent years, the continued and often growing disparities in outcomes ranging from health to education to economic prosperity have led CDFIs like Reinvestment Fund to dial up its work to explicitly address racial equity in lending, investing, and operational practices.
While this work remains urgent, it is also a challenge to determine precisely how to incorporate or operationalize racial equity into our varied work. How do CDFIs incorporate an explicit racial equity agenda into their lending and programs? What should we learn from those most impacted by oppressive systems? What work do we need to do as institutions and individuals to genuinely build a racial equity perspective? And how might we collaborate beyond our industry to improve outcomes?
In 2018, Reinvestment Fund and a group of seven other CDFIs formed the CDFI Racial Equity Collaborative on Education (the Collaborative) to try to answer these questions with a focus on lending to K-12 schools.
Our focus on education is important because, in many ways, schools are often a microcosm of their communities. They manifest the challenges and strengths of their broader community. More than just institutions of education, schools play a part in the emotional and physical wellbeing of America’s future. Therefore, it is critical that we understand and nurture the policies and practices that foster equitable educational success.
As a first step, the Collaborative engaged three educational equity consultants–Village of Wisdom, we are (Working to Extend Anti-Racist Education), and Discriminology–to develop a framework for evaluating schools’ commitments to creating equitable learning environments for all students.
Referred to as the Racial Equity Matrix (REM), the consultants defined ten academic focus areas most acutely impacted by racial inequity and provided the CDFI lenders with a host of questions to assess policies and practices related to each of these areas. The ten focus areas include: parent engagement, academic pathways, mindful discipline, culturally relevant curricula, social justice curricula, student recruitment, equitable honors & AP, social-emotional support, and teacher recruitment.
Originally published in the Saporta Report, September 20, 2021