Calling the achievement gap facing minority students in schools "the civil rights issue of our time," former Los Angeles mayor and potential gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa endorsed sweeping changes to California schools at a Capitol rally Thursday.
Hundreds of African American students and activists held the rally in support of recommendations by the nonprofit Education Trust-West in a report titled "Black Minds Matter."
The organization, which advocates for improved education for minority students, said its study of 1 million black youths attending California schools revealed "distressing disparities" in opportunities for them in school when compared with other students.
Villaraigosa endorsed recommendations of the report, including the creation of new methods for evaluating the effectiveness of schools to replace the Academic Performance Index.
"We need to be able to measure success so that our parents, our students and our communities know how well we are doing," said Villaraigosa, founder of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit group that oversees reform efforts at 17 low-performing schools in the Los Angeles area.
The report also recommended expanding opportunities for students to attend magnet schools outside their neighborhood, guaranteeing quality preschool for all, providing more resources for Common Core teaching and easier access to higher education.
"I'm here because this issue of education equity is the economic issue of our time," Villaraigosa said. "It's the civil rights issue of our time, if you look at the lack of success and the opportunity gap with African American and Latino kids."
Villaraigosa said in an interview that he has not decided yet whether to run for governor in 2018, even though others, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, have already declared their candidacy.
The former mayor -- and former state Assembly speaker -- has said previously that he would like to be governor.
"I obviously would be honored to serve, but we're not making decisions like that right now," Villaraigosa said Thursday. "I love public service and love the time I was in the Assembly, and I've always said I'd be honored to come back," he added.
Newsom this week endorsed a proposed November 2016 ballot initiative that would legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults in California.
Villaraigosa said he needs to review the proposal before taking a position, but indicated he thought some action was needed.
"The issue of decriminalization of marijuana is an issue we should address and look at," he said. "I've said for a long time that we have to look at the decriminalization of drugs and treat people who are addicted, people who are using drugs, and figure out how we give them help."