Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed legislation that at least will protect high school green-tech career academies from a state budget implosion and will even expand the number over the next few years. Doing so took some creative thinking from the bill’s sponsor, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
SBX 1-1 will direct $40 million over five years from a fund for conservation and alternative energy uses financed by a tiny surcharge ($.0003 per kilowatt-hour) on utility bills. The money will sustain 45 partnership academies that are teaching job skills, hands-on learning, and academics in areas that many are betting will drive California’s economy in coming decades: solar and alternative energy, energy conservation, and clean technologies. There will also be enough to start 42 new academies – three-year small schools, generally serving between 200 and 250 students, within comprehensive academies. In total, up to 28,000 students, many of them at risk of dropping out, are projected to go through the programs.
Former Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year, claiming the use of ratepayer money for a K-12 program set a “dangerous precedent.” But labor and education groups, along with PG&E, backed it, citing the nexus between the conservation fund and critical workforce preparation. Few Republicans supported the bill, which required only a majority vote.
If only saving other K-12 programs were so easy.