Rae Belisle, a savvy advocate for change as well as an influential Sacramento insider with the governor’s ear, has resigned as president and CEO of EdVoice, and her bid for a full term on the State Board of Education is in trouble. Her departure from both EdVoice and the board would leave low-income and minority children with one less strong voice.
Belisle submitted her resignation for health reasons to the non-profit EdVoice board in January, though she had not made that public until now. Her last day at work is March 1.
Belisle has been taking medication for breast cancer, which is in remission. She says she stopped the medicine for two months while helping with the state’s Race to the Top application. When she resumed taking it, the side effects were worse.
Her term on the State Board of Education expires March 11. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg canceled a scheduled hearing Wednesday before the Senate Rules Committee amid rumors that Belisle would resign, or the governor would withdraw her nomination. She said Sunday that neither case was true and that she would meet Tuesday with Schwarzenegger’s advisers. Another board member for the past year who also was to have a hearing Wednesday, Jorge Lopez, executive director of Oakland Charter Academy, resigned last week.
Belisle, 54, has been at EdVoice, a non-profit that works to eliminate education inequality, for two years. A year ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed her to the state board to finish the term of the late philanthropist and charter school financier Don Fisher. In those rolls and her capacity, before that, as chair of the Charter School Advisory Commission, she became identified with controversial school reforms of the past several years: an open enrollment law allowing interdistrict transfers for students in low-performing schools; statewide charter approvals for high-performing charter organizations, and a policy, now challenged in court, of requiring Algebra I for nearly all eighth graders.
That – and her defense of Proposition 227, requiring instruction of English only, as counsel to the state board – have made her many adversaries. The California School Boards Assn. (see opposition letter), the Association of California School Administrators, bilingual organizations and the California Federation of Teachers, all oppose her nomination. However, the California Teachers Assn., the largest teachers union, has not taken a position, and she has the support of a number of groups representing minority students. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed also endorsed her for her work promoting the Early Assessment Program for prospective CSU students.
Belisle said that Steinberg would not give his support for her nomination, although a spokeswoman for Steinberg declined to comment. State board candidates need a two-thirds majority of the Senate for confirmation – a difficult threshold, especially when you’re as outspoken and forceful as she is.
Belisle said her future plans were uncertain, although she said she would continue as a policy advocate and an informal adviser to EdVoice.