Bill would create green academies

Two noteworthy education bills I haven’t written about are sitting on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk. Both had substantial support in the Legislature, and, by all rights, deserve his signature. But with this governor, you never know.

SB 675 would create 97 “green” partnership academies in the areas of clean technology and renewable energy. It would pay for them by tapping  $8 million from an existing, small ($.00022 per kilowatt) surcharge on the price of electricity. Building a skilled workforce and spurring careers in alternative energy and resource conservation are a novel, appropriate use of the fund and will help California keep an edge as a national leader in green technology.

There currently are 475 partnership academies in the state. The three-year programs often are located within comprehensive high schools and offer hands-on training in a career area, work internships, and academic courses and supports, such as tutoring. Academy themes include computer design and graphics, architecture and building construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.

As with all partnership academies, the new green academies would target at-risk students. Program graduates could go on to a four-year college or, depending on the focus of the academy, might go to work as a solar panel installer or an energy auditor for a utility or continue with further job training at a community college or in an apprenticeship program.

There are challenges ahead. Only about half of the partnership academies have permanent state funding. Money for the others will expire in the next year or two, forcing districts and industry partners to come up with the difference at a tough time. SB 675 would guarantee $1,000 per student per year or the 97 new academies only for the next five years.

Because green partnership academies are so new, some districts may have trouble finding instructors from industry to teach technical courses, or find current career technical teachers who have updated their training.

But California should push forward just the same. And if the green academies are showing results in 2016, then the funding from the energy surcharge should be made permanent.

Early warning system for at-risk kids

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is the sponsor of both SB 675 and the other important bill, SB 1357. It would incorporate chronic absenteeism and truancy into the state student data system, known as CALPADS. It would establish an early warning system of students at risk of dropping out, and require the Department of Education to alert districts about who the students are. All of this would be contingent on the state’s obtaining federal funding.

The state reports would be particularly useful for tracking at-risk students who change districts. What’s surprising is that this information wasn’t part of the system from the start.

CALPADS’ operation has been troubled from when it went online in 2009, and it’s a year or more behind in collecting some data. So it’s probably wishful thinking to assume the state will be issuing the alerts any time soon.

In deference to districts that are already frustrated in dealing with CALPADS, the bill doesn’t mandate that districts upload absentee information to the state. The truancy and absenteeism reports will be useful only for districts that voluntarily supply the information.

Nonetheless, data on absences should be part of any statewide data system. The governor would be unwise to veto the bill.

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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