Some cuts, cash in budget deal

John Fensterwald co-authored Buy cialis pills this article.

Legislative leaders protected most student financial aid in the Cal Grants program and preserved status quo funding for charter schools in the budget deal announced yesterday between Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown.

The agreement comes less than a week after legislators approved a $92 billion spending plan that eliminated some of the governor’s biggest education proposals, including his plan to switch the entire school finance system to a weighted student funding formula.

Few details were revealed from the agreement announced yesterday; Senate staff members said the specific language of the budget trailer bills would be written over the weekend and taken up in the budget committee on Monday. A floor vote could come as soon as Tuesday.

Staff confirmed that the bills would not raise the eligibility for Cal Grants, the $1.5 billion student aid program. Brown recommended raising the grade point average (GPA) required for the Cal Grant A program from 3.0 to 3.25, and increasing the GPA for Cal Grant B awards from 2.0 to 2.75.

Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity and a board member on the California Student Aid Commission, said taking the GPA increases off the table is “absolutely a great thing for students,” because the proposal threatened to shift the core value of Cal Grants from a need-based scholarship into a merit-based program.

The Campaign for College Opportunity sent a letter to the governor last week opposing that and two other recommendations: reducing the Cal Grant award by 40 percent for new and continuing students attending independent nonprofit colleges in California, and linking Cal Grant eligibility to federal standards for the Pell Grant program. The budget deal reportedly contains neither of those proposals.

However, students attending private, for-profit colleges may want to check their schools’ graduation and loan default rates. The Legislature did accept Brown’s bid to crack down on so-called diploma mills, private for-profit institutions, by withholding Cal Grants from these schools for one year if their graduation rate falls below 30 percent or their student loan default rate is 15 percent or higher. That could affect more than 80 postsecondary institutions, according to an analysis conducted for the Student Aid Commission.

“It says to colleges, especially if they’re going to charge a lot of money, that students should be getting a lot of value for that money,” said Siqueiros, adding that means getting a job that pays enough to pay back the loan.

Brown has charter schools’ backs

Brown has persuaded legislative leaders to restore an unexpected $50 million cut to charter schools that they approved in passing the state budget last week. The cut would have been $100 to $112 per charter student and would have widened a funding gap between charters and district schools.

But charter leaders will be holding their breath until the agreement  is written into the language of a trailer bill and it becomes a done deal.

The money is for the block grant that charters get in lieu of small, restricted amounts of money for special purposes known as categorical programs. In his budget, Brown flat-funded the block program but included an additional $50 million to accommodate what the Department of Finance is projecting to be a 15.5 percent increase in charter school attendance next year, compared with less than 1 percent more in district schools.

The surge in enrollment reflects not only additional schools but also schools adding grades and more students per class to cope with budget cuts, said Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association. Over the last four years, the average charter school has grown from 360 to 400 students.

Earlier this year, the Legislative Analyst’s Office calculated that charter schools received 7 percent or $395 per student less than district schools, including $150 per student less in categorical funding. That difference would have increased to $260 per student without the $50 million growth factor.

“Our members were very vocal about this,” Wallace said. “It looks as though funding will be restored, and we appreciate this.”

Brown, who was a creator of two charter schools while mayor of Oakland, has become a protector of charters as governor.

Next step for Student Success Act

Retiring Community College Chancellor Jack Scott watched his signature initiative move closer to becoming law. The Assembly Higher Education Committee yesterday unanimously passed SB 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012.

The bill would implement two of the 22 recommendations developed by the Student Success Task Force, a panel of educators, policymakers, students, and researchers that spent last year studying and taking testimony on ways to improve the completion rate at California’s community colleges.

“SB 1456 is about community college students and the tremendous fierce urgency of doing something now,” the bill’s author, Democratic Senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, told the Assembly panel.

As TOPed previously reported, studies have found that after six years, only 30 percent of community college students earn a degree or certificate or transfer to a four-year college.

The first proposal puts the onus on community colleges to provide support services for every student. These include orientation, assessment and placement, counseling and education planning, and tutoring or other interventions to help students who are falling off the path. Colleges would also have to evaluate the effectiveness of those supports and report them to the Legislative Analyst.

The second recommendation establishes for the first time academic standards for receiving Board of Governors (BOG) fee waivers. In order to continue receiving a BOG waiver, students would have to maintain a “C” average for two semesters.

“Why did we put in there something about the BOG fee waiver?” asked Chancellor Scott, in anticipation of the question.  “Well, we wanted not only institutions to accept responsibility for student success, but we wanted students to accept responsibility.”

Community College Chancellor Jack Scott testifying on SB 1456, the Student Success Act.  (Source:  The California Channel).  Click to enlarge.
Community College Chancellor Jack Scott testifying on SB 1456, the Student Success Act. (Source: The California Channel). Click to enlarge.

Scott noted that this is also required for both the federal Pell Grant program and Cal Grants. “We just didn’t quite feel it was fair for somebody to continue for 8 or 10 semesters and never achieve a 2.0,” he said.

Speakers heaped praise on Lowenthal for his willingness to work with key constituencies to find middle ground on some contentious issues.  The biggest concerns were over new restrictions on BOG fee waivers.  Lowenthal agreed to remove a provision eliminating eligibility for waivers for students with more than 110 units.  He also agreed to an appeals process and to phasing-in the changes over time.

As a result, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, the Student Senate, and MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund switched from opposing the bill to supporting it.

“I think that this is a stronger bill because all of the stakeholders have come to the table,” said Jessie Ryan with the Campaign for College Opportunity.  “We’ve done a great deal of work with social justice organizations across the state and student organizations to address their concerns, and I think we’re at a place where we can all acknowledge that completion matters and the Student Success Act puts us on that path.”

Well, not exactly.  The Community College Association (CCA), which is the higher education division of the California Teachers Association, argued that SB 1456 is more talk than walk.  Ron Norton Reel, a speech teacher at Mt. San Antonio College, testified that the bill contains no definition of success or strategy for measuring it, creates more inequalities among students and doesn’t provide any funding to hire the thousands of additional counselors that will be needed to help students establish educational goals and a plan to reach them.  Without that “then the intent is good, but the consequences are bad,” said Ron Norton Reel with the CCA.

Lowenthal countered by reading a section of the bill that clearly states that community colleges won’t be held accountable unless they receive funding to carry out the provisions.  “We all want additional funding,” Lowenthal said.  “The people who support this bill, more than even the opposition, want additional funding.”  Until that money comes, he said, colleges need to start preparing for the changes ahead.

Sunset, sunrise

Another of Chancellor Scott’s projects – which is about to expire – received a new lease on life by the Higher Education Committee.  SB 1070, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, would strengthen and extend the Career Technical Education Pathways Initiative funded by Scott’s 2005 bill, SB 70.   These are typically academies within high school or middle schools where students learn many of their core subjects through the lens of a business or industry.  Some are in community colleges.

At Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove Unified School District, students in the Green Technology Academy learn science and math through hands-on experimentation with alternative energy.  They build solar-powered vehicles, compare the effectiveness of different biofuels and study physics by making and launching small rockets and measuring their velocity and height.

“Every time I see one of these career pathways programs whether it be the partnership academies or linked learning or one of the other models, learning comes alive, and it comes alive without sacrificing rigor that prepares students for college and career,” Steinberg told the committee Tuesday afternoon.

Career academies should be tied to local business and industry needs.  (Source:  Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarge.
Career academies should be tied to local business and industry needs. (Source: Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarge.

SB 1070 would hold schools more accountable for success than its predecessor and require them to submit data about student outcomes.  Initial funding would come from the Quality Education Investment Act.  That’s the $3 billion program created to settle a lawsuit brought by the California Teachers Association against Gov. Schwarzenegger for failing to repay school districts and community colleges money borrowed from Proposition 98 in 2004-05 to help the state get through that year’s budget crisis.

The State Department of Education also funds the California Partnership Academy program.  They’re all competitive grants and together the various funding sources support about 700 academies in California schools, according to the Career Academy Support Network at the University of California, Berkeley.  Since 2005, the career tech academies have enrolled nearly 750,000 students, although they tend to be concentrated in about a quarter of the state’s 1,000 school districts.

The results are impressive. Attendance and graduation rates are higher in academies than in the comprehensive high schools where they’re located.  Test scores are a little better too, even though many of the students – 50 percent, by law, in the partnership academies – are considered at risk.

“Overall, in the career advancement projects, we’ve seen a 90 percent retention; that’s huge, we don’t see that in our other programs,” testified Carole Goldsmith, the Vice Chancellor for Educational Services and Workforce Development in West Hills Community College District.  The district runs a teacher pipeline with one of its career tech grants.  “I think all of us intrinsically know that when you link education to hands-on approach to what industry wants, you’re going to engage students.”

Adult education’s existential crisis

This is the second of a two-part series on adult education in California.  Click here to read part 1.

Adult education in California is nearly as old as the state itself. Today, the program that has helped millions of people learn English, earn a GED, and receive job training for 156 years is facing extinction. A new report released today by EdSource concludes that these schools, which provide second chances for the state’s most needy adults, “are as much at-risk as many of the people they serve.”

The report, aptly titled At Risk: Adult Schools in California, surveyed the state’s 30 largest school districts and found that 23 had made significant cuts to their adult education programs. In many cases, they lost at least half their funding. One of them, Anaheim Union High School District, shuttered its 73-year-old adult school.

“The important thing to remember is that these adult school programs are serving a population that really falls through the cracks,” said Louis Freedberg, Executive Director of EdSource. “This is a population that needs basic education in basic skills, that needs help with English as a Second Language, and for whom there is really no other place to go to get these basic services.”

Adult ed cuts in 30 largest districts.  (Source:  EdSource)  Click to enlarge.
Adult ed cuts in 30 largest districts. (Source: EdSource) Click to enlarge.

These draconian cuts have taken place in just the past three years. Until 2009, adult education funding was protected as a categorical program, meaning districts could not use the money for any other purpose. But that February, faced with a massive budget shortfall, the Legislature and Gov. Brown removed 39 programs – including adult ed – from this restriction and gave school districts flexibility to use the funds wherever they were most needed.

A survey of several hundred school districts conducted by the adult education program in Montebello Unified School District found that about 40 have closed or are planning to shut their adult education programs, and estimated that, statewide, districts have redirected about 60 percent of the $773 million in adult education funds to the K-12 system. At the same time, enrollment dropped from 1.2 million students to about 700,000.

“We were actually growing before the cuts started,” said Pam Garramone, principal of Sonoma Valley Adult School, which closes at the end of this month. Garramone said there were six adult school agencies in Sonoma County before flex started; now there’s only one, Petaluma, and it doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate the 10,000 people who have been shut out.

Farewell message on Sonoma Valley Adult School site. (click to enlarge).
Farewell message on Sonoma Valley Adult School site. (click to enlarge).

Garramone said her district has always been very supportive of adult education, but was placed in an untenable position. “Our budget situation was just so drastic that every single thing that was on the list to be cut was painful for them, and they’re looking at even more cuts next year, so the decision to finally close adult education they just felt had to be made,” she said. “And I really don’t blame them; I didn’t necessarily agree with it, but I certainly don’t blame them for the decision.”

She blames the Legislature. Adult education should never have been flexed, said Garramone. Even though categorical flex is supposed to end on June 30, 2015, few people expect to see the money again. Indeed, Gov. Brown’s proposal for a weighted student funding formula would make categorical flexibility permanent.

Paul Hay, the superintendent of San Jose’s Metropolitan Education District (MetroED), told EdSource if weighted student funding is approved, “adult education is dead, gone, over, and will never come back in the state.”

MetroED’s enrollment plunged from 10,000 to 2,000 after it closed more than 50 programs, two major campuses, and all its community outreach centers except for a program for disabled adults.

Societal impact

The adult education program in Oakland Unified School District was among the hardest hit without being closed.  It has been cut by more than 90 percent since the start of flex, losing $11 million of a $12 million budget which necessitated shutting two campuses and canceling English as a second language courses as well as its high school credit recovery program.  The GED classes are still thriving, however, and graduated 95 students last year.

“When we were cut our numbers were at the highest they’ve been, this would have been our best year ever,” said Chris Nelson, director of the district’s adult education programs and president of the California Council for Adult Education.  “It’s ironic now that the economy is so bad because it’s during times of high unemployment that people seek education programs.”

Donita McKay standing outside the Oakland adult ed computer literacy RV. (Click to enlarge).
Donita McKay standing outside the Oakland adult ed computer literacy RV. (Click to enlarge).

Donita McKay is studying for her GED and taking a computer literacy course through Oakland’s adult education school.  McKay is 49 years old, a single mom with four children, and a ninth-grade drop out.   She said being back in school has opened her mind and given her a different outlook on life.

“Education is important because when you don’t have it you’re so limited,” said McKay.  “I always tell my children, get your education, because I didn’t really get all mine, so and you see where I’m at.  They hear that from my mouth everyday.”

Sitting at small workstation in an RV retrofitted as mobile computer classroom, McKay said she’s considering becoming a teacher one day, “because I always like to give back and give what I learned, because it reminds me I used to be like that.”

Oakland has all the challenges of any big city.  English is not the first language for about 40 percent of the population and in some neighborhoods the high school dropout rate is a staggering 60 to 70 percent, said Mayor Jean Quan, who spent twelve years on the local school board.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (Click to enlarge).
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (Click to enlarge).

“What I really worry about is California creating a permanent underclass,” said Quan.  “This is one of the ways out; this is one of the second chances that people have, and if people don’t have at least a high school degree it’s very hard to even get a good paying blue-collar job.”

Not dead yet

Gordon Jackson is head of the Adult Education Division of the California Department of Education.  He said the mission of adult education is to advance the “economic, workforce development and societal goals by preparing adult learners for college, career and civic responsibility.”

It’s a critical goal, but one that doesn’t have critical support.  Although adult education programs are run by both K-12 school districts and community colleges, it’s not the core mission of either.  So, it’s taken some time for advocates to organize, but they’ve started considering alternatives on a number of fronts.

Several proposals are being floated said EdSource’s Freedberg.  One idea is to combine resources and establish regional centers.  Another, put forth by the state’s Little Hoover Commission, recommends turning over responsibility for adult education to community college; even thought they

Gordon Jackson, Director of Adult Education Division, CA Dept. of Education. (Source:  CDE).
Gordon Jackson, Director of Adult Education Division, CA Dept. of Education. (Source: CDE).

are facing their own massive budget cuts.  And a third plan, already underway, is to lobby the Legislature to remove adult education from categorical flex and from the governor’s weighted student funding formula.

“There are times when I would like to sit next to somebody at Starbucks and moan and groan and say I cannot believe that there are adults in this world of ours at the legislative level and other places who don’t really understand what it means to demolish an infrastructure, what it means to do this to California’s future,” said Jackson.  “I can bemoan that and have a really intense pity party for a while, until I need to focus on what needs to happen.”

CA millions of degrees short

Business and civic leaders weighed in on the condition of California’s university and college systems with an urgent warning that without a significant increase in graduation rates, the state will lose its prominence as an economic contender.

A new report released Thursday by the California Competes Council found that the state needs 5 ½ million new college degrees and technical certificates by the year 2025. But, without major changes, California will fall 2.3 million short.

(Source:  California Competes and U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey).  Click to enlarge.
(Source: California Competes and U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey). Click to enlarge.

“We need to provide our young people with the tools, not only to live a good life and be good participants in our state, but to also fuel our economic engine,” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, chair of the Council, during a conference call with reporters.

The Council’s report, entitled The Road Ahead: Higher education, California’s promise, and our future economy, is the third in a confluence of reports focusing on improving success at the state’s community colleges this year, this time from the perspective of business and civic leaders. In January, the Community College Board of Governors approved a package of 22 recommendations developed after a year of meetings and public hearings by the Student Success Task Force.

A month later, the Little Hoover Commission, the state watchdog agency, released its recommendations for community colleges in Serving Students, Serving California.

All three reports share some ideas. They would give more independence to the Chancellor’s office, provide more support for new students, and call for greater accountability. The Council states up front that it supports the recommendations of the other two groups, but goes on to say that they “do not go far enough in addressing the lack of accountability in the system caused by dysfunctional governance.”

They call their report a blueprint for the governor and State Legislature and lay out steps the state must take “to restore California to national and international prominence as a producer of high-quality college graduates.”

More and better quality degrees

Producing 5.5 million new graduates by 2025 means increasing the number of degrees and certificates by a little over 4 percent a year. The Council says this could be accomplished by better research into the types of jobs and qualifications needed to fill them in different regions of the state. The report notes that “there are increasing numbers of good jobs across a range of industries that demand skills gained in credential programs of less than four years,” and that “the state should identify majors that are a priority.”

Community colleges are a key strategy in meeting the demand. With about 2.6 million students, they are the largest higher education system in the nation, but rank second to last in completion rates, according to the report. That combination makes community colleges the low-hanging fruit, as it were.

“Improving attainment rates for transfer, degrees, and certificates at community colleges could address a third to half of the 2.3 million graduate gap,” write the Council members.

The authors also caution against losing sight of quality. Doing things on the cheap, such as increasing class sizes, could backfire by producing graduates without the analytical and critical thinking skills they’ll need to be successful.

Create a Higher Education Investment Board

Remember CPEC, the California Postsecondary Education Commission? It didn’t work out so well and Gov. Brown disbanded it last year. The Higher Education Investment Board would be CPEC with teeth.

It wouldn’t be a governance body, said Robert Shireman, director of California Competes. Like CPEC, it would collect information and data from campuses about the number of degrees granted from each campus, how much it costs to educate students for different degrees, and what the workforce needs are for different regions of the state, and use that information to advise the governor and Legislature on policy.

Unlike CPEC, the Board would have authority to compel each campus to respond to its requests for data because it would also have control of student financial aid, like Cal Grants.

“Campuses did not have any incentive to respond to requests of CPEC because there weren’t any consequences,” said Shireman. “The scholarship program is a hook into institutions that they need to be responsive.

Streamline governance

“The statewide Board of Governors should amend its regulations to restore clear accountability to local boards of trustees and to the administrators who report to them.” – California Competes.

In a significant shift from the other two reports, the Council proposed reconfiguring the management structure of community colleges to give local Boards of Trustees more power over policy.

Currently, under AB 1725, passed in 1988, local community college districts must ensure that faculty, staff, and students are allowed to participate in governance. Two years later, the Board of Governors went further with regulations that call for “mutual agreement” between the local trustees and faculty senates on issues pertaining to curriculum and academic standards.

The Council, while acknowledging that faculty input is important, said that by giving academic senates equal authority, it’s nearly impossible to reach any agreements.

“We really debated on the governance question and came away with the feeling that the accountability structure of community colleges really needed to be strengthened in order to move forward and address this gap in degrees and certificates,” said California’s former legislative analyst and council member Elizabeth Hill.

As far as the statewide academic senate is concerned, the Council based that recommendation on a blatantly mistaken understanding of the regulation. “My jaw dropped when I read that section of the report,” said Michelle Pilati, president of the statewide Academic Senate and a professor at Rio Hondo College.   “It’s disappointing to see that the authors of the report did not adequately check their facts.” Except for the changes implemented by the Board of Governors in 1990, Pilati said local trustees can opt to reach a mutual agreement with their faculty senates, but are under no obligation to do so.

Members of the student senate took issue with the portrayal of faculty as the obstacle to change and cautioned against using divisive language. “It’s a mischaracterization and in line with all the other demonization of teachers that we’re seeing in K-12,” said Rich Copenhagen, a student senator from the College of Alameda. “Unfortunately I think this report falls into that, and I don’t think that’s a very healthy way of dealing with our problems.”

The Community College Chancellor’s office said it supports any effort to improve completion rates, but was noncommittal on the report’s recommendations and instead directed attention to the Student Success Task Force. Some key proposals from the task force are already making their way through the State Legislature in SB 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012.

Trends in California ed bills

Tomorrow is primary day, but last Friday also marked some significant yeas and nays. It was the final day for bills before the State Legislature to pass out of the house where they were introduced, also known as their house of origin.

One of the big trends in legislation this year is an effort to move the pendulum back from zero tolerance in schools to something more nuanced. Starting from the top, with State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, lawmakers introduced nine bills.

As we reported in April, Senator Steinberg and other legislators were disturbed by a report called Suspended Education in California, which found that the harshest punishments were carried out with clear racial disparity.

Steinberg’s bill, SB 1235, requires schools with suspension rates above 25 percent, overall or for a specific racial or ethnic group, to implement a research-based alternative that holds the students accountable for their misbehavior but keeps them in school.

Sherry Griffith, a legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), finds some irony in the number of bills on the issue, and she urges caution.

“Last year we were in the zero tolerance for bullying, and this year it’s okay to keep them (disruptive and angry students) on campus unless it’s critical,” said Griffith.

ACSA has been fairly active this session in addressing the problem of misbehavior by teachers. The situation in Los Angeles Unified School District, in which a teacher accused of lewd acts on children was on the job for years before being removed from the classroom, has sparked numerous bills that would make it easier for school districts to take action against teachers accused of similar conduct. SB 1530, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla, adds “serious and egregious” conduct to the types of behavior that will get a teacher removed immediately.

“We support the Padilla bill. We can’t even imagine how anyone can’t support expediting the removal of a teacher in that situation,” said Griffith. “The funny thing is, schools are one of the safest places for kids to be, any time. And we have to keep that focus and not get lax about it.”

Building Student Success Task Force

After a year of meetings and public hearings, members of the Community College Student Success Task Force are watching to see what happens to SB 1456, carried by Sen. Alan Lowenthal. The Long Beach Democrat has introduced the Student Success Act, which begins to implement some of the recommendations in the Task Force report.

The bill covers two major sections of the report: funding priorities that promote student success and support, and requirements for Board of Governors fee waivers. The first part centers on putting money into services critical to students’ success at the front end, such as orientation, academic assessment, and helping students develop an education plan. Community College Vice Chancellor for Government Relations Marlene Garcia says there’s abundant research showing that one of the “key factors in student success in college is having a goal and having a plan.”

The second part is a bit more controversial: It would tighten eligibility for Board of Governors fee waivers. If students fall below a 2.0 GPA for two consecutive terms, they lose their waiver. “For the first time we’re saying students need to meet satisfactory academic standards,” said Garcia.

Requests for waivers have been rising along with community college fees. About 62 percent of students receive the waivers, and that could rise to 70 percent within the next couple of years.

While she understands that this is a philosophical issue for some, especially low-income students, Garcia said the purpose isn’t to separate students from their Board of Governors waivers. “It’s to signal to students the kind of behavior that’s likely to lead them to success. A GPA below 2.0 is not putting you on a track toward success.”

Status of key education bills as of June 4, 2012

(The following is the first page of a multi-page chart. Click here for entire chart)


Middle class tuition break at UC, CSU

Four Republican legislators crossed party lines in the Assembly on Wednesday, providing the two-thirds vote needed to approve a bill that would create a middle class scholarship program for the state’s public college and university students.

AB 1501 is part of a two-bill package called the Middle Class Scholarship Act introduced by Assembly speaker John A. Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, that would reduce tuition by two-thirds for students attending the University of California and California State University whose families earn less than $150,000 a year.

In urging a yes vote, Pérez cited the enormous fee hikes at the state’s public colleges and universities, noting that in the past decade tuition has increased by 191 percent at Cal State, by 145 percent at the University of California, and by 300 percent at community colleges. Meanwhile, state support for UC and CSU has dropped by 21 percent and 26 percent respectively since 2005.

10 year history of changes in CSU tuition. (Source: California State University). Click to enlarge.
Ten-year history of changes in CSU tuition. (Source: California State University.) Click to enlarge.

“This means that for thousands of California families, higher education entails increasingly difficult tradeoffs,” said Pérez; tradeoffs that would either compel parents to make huge sacrifices, or force students to take on massive loan debt. “For many Californians those tradeoffs are too great, and they make the reluctant decision to forego a higher education altogether.”

Student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion nationally, more than all U.S. credit card debt. Statewide, according to the California Student Aid Commission, there’s been a double-digit increase every year for the past three years in the number of students who qualify for loans and for the state’s Cal Grant awards.

Under AB 1501, eligible Cal State students would save $4,000 per year, or $16,000 over four years, while UC students would save about $8,200 per year, or nearly $33,000 over a four-year period. Students from families earning between $150,000 and $160,000 a year would be entitled to assistance at a lower level; their scholarships would be reduced by 10 percent for each $1,000 in family income over $150,000. California community colleges would receive $150 million to help students defray the cost of textbooks and offset other educational expenses.

Lack of investment “criminal”

Modesto Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, vice chair of the Higher Education Committee and one of the Republicans who broke ranks and supported the measure, defended her position during the floor debate as a vote for the state’s economic prosperity.

“We have slashed state investment in higher education, and that’s criminal,” Olsen said. “One of the only ways we’re going to grow a strong economy over the long term is by investing in our public universities to make sure that we are graduating educated employees who are prepared to compete in a global workforce.”

She noted that wealthy families can afford to pay tuition, and low-income families have various options for state and federal aid, but middle-income families are being hit hard by escalating tuition and the faltering economy.

But her colleague in the GOP caucus, Assemblymember Tim Donnelly from Twin Peaks, wasn’t moved, except to sarcasm. “I see these programs and they sound so nice – middle class scholarship fund – woo-hoo, hallelujah, Praise the Lord! I love it, sounds wonderful, why don’t we give one to everybody?” he quipped. “Oh yeah, there’s a slight little problem: we don’t have the money.”

Donnelly blamed union wage demands and injudicious spending decisions by UC and CSU for their financial problems, especially giving huge pay raises to new campus presidents while increasing student fees. Then he offered this sage advice: “I remember when I went to school. I went to the University of California at Irvine; I got three jobs to pay my way through. My idea of a middle class scholarship is a job.”

Half a loaf

While there is some disagreement among Republicans on AB 1501, they are united in their opposition to its companion bill, AB 1500. This is the half that pays for the Middle Class Scholarship Act.

Pérez wants to fund it by closing a loophole in the 2009 Corporation Tax Law that gave companies operating in both California and another state the option of computing their taxes using either the Single Sales Factor (SSF), which is based on their California sales, or another formula that gives the companies more flexibility on how much taxes they’ll pay. The policy was adopted in one of those never-well-thought-through budget deals reached in the middle of the night.

Requiring those companies to move to the SSF would increase the state’s general fund by about $1 billion in 2013-14, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. In fact, the LAO recommended that the state take that action two years ago.

Gov. Brown tried to change the law last year, by getting bipartisan support for AB 40X. The bill would have mandated the SSF and returned the revenue to businesses in the form of job credits as an incentive for hiring Californians. Although it passed the Assembly, the bill did not garner any GOP support in the Senate and died.

One of the sponsors of AB 40X was Assembly Republican Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita. He’s also one of the four Republicans who voted yesterday for AB 1501. But in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Smyth said he will not be supporting AB 1500.

“It would be another funding obligation from the state,” said Smyth. “I still think the Single Sales Factor needs to be reexamined, but I do have concerns, because unlike last year, this bill is a tax increase and it creates a new entitlement.”

Kristin Olsen and the other two Republicans who voted for AB 1501 – Katcho Achadjian from San Luis Obispo and Jeff Gorell of Camarillo – have also said they will not support the companion bill, but are willing to work with Speaker Pérez on finding a different funding source, such as savings from the governor’s pension reform proposal.

Assemblymember Olsen said adequate funding for public higher education ought to be a top priority in the general fund if California is committed to maintaining a premier public university system. But she’s not optimistic. “The direction that California is headed today, quite honestly, makes me fearful,” said Olsen, “and makes me question whether I will be able to send my three kids to college.”

LAO: No need for $5.5 billion cut

The Legislative Analyst’s Office is suggesting an alternative to the massive cut to K-12 schools and community colleges that Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing if his tax initiative fails in November. Instead of a real spending cut of $2.8 billion, or $415 per K-12 student, districts and community colleges would be cut $1 billion, or only $162 per K-12 student, under the LAO plan.

The LAO detailed its alternative in an analysis of Brown’s May budget revision, which the nonpartisan, independent agency released on Friday (see pages 21-22 in the pdf version). The difference is the size of the Proposition 98 spending obligation that is calculated for this year and next year, separate from the tax increase.

The LAO assumes a more conservative approach, which would leave the K-12 schools and community colleges with $1.7 billion less than the governor has calculated and that districts will argue they are owed; that’s the downside for districts. The paradoxical upside is that, without a higher Proposition 98 base, they would feel less pain if the tax increase failed. Since most school districts are budgeting assuming the worst case, they could plan now for a smaller cut in the LAO proposal.

Brown is also proposing a new, major manipulation of Proposition 98, with long-term implications to school funding, if the tax increase fails – a scheme that the LAO alternative would avoid.

For districts, it comes down to which bitter pill to swallow.

Proposition 98 was written so that schools receive significant increases when the economy is good and personal incomes throughout the state are rising. When the economy slows, IOUs to schools and community colleges accumulate; the sum is known as the maintenance factor, and, over the past four years, it’s become big – about $10 billion, or 20 percent of the Proposition 98 obligation (see this explanation).

The repayment of debt owed to schools is based on the change from year to year in state revenues. Usually, the change reflects an economic recovery. Not this year. Revenues have deteriorated, regardless of the projected increase from 2011-12 to 2012-13. The LAO argues that Brown is calculating the maintenance factor as if it were a good year, technically known as a Test 2 year under Prop 98. When it’s a bad year, known as Test 1, with K-12 and community colleges getting a set percentage of a shrunken budget – about 40 percent – there’s no obligation to calculate the maintenance factor at the expense of other parts of the budget, the LAO argues. (This point has never been litigated. But John Mockler, the author of Proposition 98 and and adviser to the California Teachers Association, says that the LAO is wrong: The law does not distinguish between Test 1 and Test 2 years in terms of repayment; nothing under the law lets the state off the hook.)

The $1.7 billion savings that the LAO envisions includes a $500 million maintenance factor repayment this year and $1.2 billion in 2012-13, under Brown’s budget. Brown is proposing to use a chunk of it to speed up repayment of deferrals, the chronically late state payments that have forced cash-strapped districts to borrow short-term money. Since Brown’s not proposing to increase programmatic spending for schools anyway, school operations won’t be affected next year by not receiving the maintenance factor, the LAO says. However, Brown and the Legislature will be able to spend the $1.7 billion on other areas of the state budget that are hurting.

Cramming more into Prop 98

Now shift to November. Brown is proposing to raise the sales tax 1/4 percentage point and the income tax on the wealthy between 1 and 3 percentage points, and he has built his budget assuming the increase would pass. If it fails, he would cut K-12 schools and community colleges $5.5 billion: 90 percent of the total $6.1 billion cut.

About half of the $5.5 billion cut would be the postponement of repaying deferrals. The LAO and Brown agree this would be necessary. But Brown would then cut $2.8 billion in real dollars to schools by further manipulating the Prop 98 formula. He would shift $2.8 billion of expenses that had been funded outside of Prop 98 into it, forcing a corresponding cut to per-student funding. The two expenses are repayment of state bonds for school construction ($2.6 billion) and the Early Start early education program ($238 million).

The tactic of moving items in and out of Prop 98 is called rebenching. There are two ways to do this, and Brown is using both as it suits him, a “heads I win, tails you (schools) lose” approach. As the LAO diplomatically notes, “Using different rebenching methods within the same budget plan (as well as changing rebenching methods across years) at least creates the perception that the state likely is selecting the method that always works to its maximum benefit.” (Go here for an explanation of a lawsuit brought by education groups against Brown over rebenching in last year’s budget.)

By excluding the $1.7 billion maintenance factor and lowering the Prop 98 obligation for 2012-13, the LAO would not require as big a cut or the Prop 98 deception. (The LAO also recommends cutting $100 million in disputed money for the Quality Education Investment Act, a program for low-performing schools championed by the California Teachers Assn.)

All of this is dense stuff that is nearly indecipherable. It offers further evidence for the failure of how California finances state government and schools in particular.

But which method of calculating Prop 98 has consequences? On the one hand, it will determine whether districts get $1.7 billion owed them next year or later; on the other, it will determine whether, failing passage of a tax increase, schools face a cut of $415 or $162 per student; the $253 difference is equal to almost two weeks of school.

Heavy editing on publishers

It’s a sure sign that an issue has hit crisis mode when Republican and Democratic legislators are on the same page about what needs to happen. In this case, it’s a fraying page from a textbook industry that needs some help embracing change.

The Senate Education Committee yesterday handily approved two more bills aimed at lowering the cost of textbooks from elementary school through college and moving them more quickly into the e-book era. In all, seven bills dealing with textbooks are making their way through the Legislature.

Publishers would have to provide, in one place, information on the differences between editions, how much the books cost in all their forms from hardcover to paperback, and a list of other texts on the same subject and their prices.

“Today’s K-through-12 students have grown up immersed in digital technology,” Senator Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel), author of SB 1154, told the committee. “However, California students are attending schools equipped with outdated, heavy, hardbound textbooks, some of which are at least ten years old.”

Walters’ measure has three parts.  1) Textbook publishers would have to provide instructional and supplemental materials in both print and digital formats; 2) publishers could not require schools to buy textbooks bundled with other materials – they’d have to make the items available à la carte; and 3) publishers will have to offer free digital versions of textbooks to schools that buy the hard copies and allow students to access the digital material through a secure, district-based online database.

The other bill approved by the committee yesterday, focuses on college textbooks. SB 1539, by San Leandro Democratic Senator Ellen Corbett, seeks to make it easier for faculty to compare prices and content. Publishers would have to provide, in one place, information on the differences between editions, the cost of books in all their various formats from hardcover to paperback, and a list of other texts on the same subject and their prices. Corbett said having access to this information would enable faculty to easily compare prices and content and save their students some money.

As anyone who has paid for college lately can attest, textbooks are a second serving of sticker shock after tuition. A report by State Auditor Elaine Howle found that “in the four-year period ending 2007-08, textbook prices rose at rates that significantly outpaced increases in the median household income in the United States.”

Annual Student Fees and Textbook Costs for Full‐Time Students Enrolled in the State’s Postsecondary Educational Systems Academic Year 2007–08.  (Source: California State Auditor). Click to enlarge.
Annual Student Fees and Textbook Costs for Full‐Time Students Enrolled in the State’s Postsecondary Educational Systems Academic Year 2007–08. (Source: California State Auditor). Click to enlarge.

At that time, Howle reported that textbooks accounted for 13 percent of the costs of attending the University of California, 23 percent at Cal State University, and 59 percent for community college students. Some of that is due to markups by college bookstores that ranged from 25 to 43 percent at the nine California campuses the auditor reviewed.

But publishers still take most of the heat for such practices as issuing updated editions that often do little more than switch the order of chapters, but in so doing make it impossible for students to sell back their books or buy them second-hand.

“From our perspective, we view textbook publishers as highly exploitative,” Justin Goss, a student senator at UC Davis, told members of the Senate Education Committee. “While I am sure that they are perfectly nice people, it continues to baffle me why a reordered table of contents and a shiny new binding warrants and additional $50, $60, or sometimes $100 on the price tag.”

For their part, publishers argue that some of the bills are redundant and could drive up costs more.  Most of the information required by the bills is already online, said Stephen Rhoads with Strategic Education Services, a consulting and lobbying firm that represents the Association of American Publishers.

There are already several federal and state laws governing textbooks.  Both the Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed by Congress in 2008, and California’s College Textbook Transparency Act, which took effect at the start of 2010, require publishers to provide nearly all the information contained in Corbett’s bill.  A third bill, SB 48, by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), gives college textbook publishers until 2020 to offer electronic versions.

Federal and State Textbook Laws. (Source:  Strategic Education Services). Click to enlarge.
Federal and State Textbook Laws. (Source: Strategic Education Services). Click to enlarge.

“We actually think the marketplace is working for books,” testified Rhoads yesterday.  He cited statistics compiled by the market research firm Student Monitor showing that prices have been dropping in recent years.  However, a closer look indicates that students have more options today to buy less expensive books or to rent them online.  What’s more, Student Monitor reported that more than 40 percent of students said they didn’t buy all the required books because they couldn’t afford them.

But publishers have other concerns about the bills that pose legal and ethical questions.  It’s one thing if school districts that buy the textbooks also receive a free digital copy for students to access, but publishers want to be sure it’s a secure platform that protects the work from copyright infringement.  If they have to develop that platform, then shouldn’t they be compensated?

Those issues are still being worked out said Everett Rice, a spokesman for Sen. Walters.  “The senator’s goal was never to essentially try to not allow the textbook companies to function,” said Rice.  “We’re just trying to create greater flexibility based on the changing technology and to give school districts more room for negotiation, and to only give them what they need.”

State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is pushing for greater change.  He and Sen. Alquist have two bills that go hand-in-hand.  SB 1052 creates the California Open Education Resources Council, charges it with developing a list of the 50 most widely used college textbooks for lower division college courses, and allows faculty, publishers and other experts to bid for funds to produce 50 high quality affordable, digital open source textbooks and related materials.

The companion bill, SB 1053, creates a digital open source library jointly run by the University of California, Cal State and California Community Colleges.  His goal is to have the first 25 books ready by the fall of 2013, with the second group of 25 coming a year later.

With students and parents struggling to pay for college, “our goal is to move fast, because there is great urgency,” Steinberg said at a December news conference announcing his bills. “The book publishers are used to a particular model; the world is changing.”

Bill me: Legislative week in review

John Fensterwald co-wrote this article.

One day after Democrats on the Senate Education Committee rejected his sweeping approach to getting rid of poorly performing and badly behaving teachers, Republican leader Bob Huff mentioned an often cited but much disputed quote of the late Albert Shanker in letting the Democrats have it.

“The Senate Education Committee’s actions exemplify the comments made by Albert Shanker, former head of the United Federation of Teachers, who stated, ‘When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.’ Once again the Democrats on the committee have chosen to put the demands of some union bosses over the safety of our children,” Huff said in a press release. (Shanker’s wife, Edith, denies he ever made the statement.) UPDATE: I contacted Shaker’s biographer,  Richard Kahlenberg, who wrote Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy.  His email response regarding the authenticity of the quote: “I tried to track down the quotation for my biography of Al Shanker but I was unable to confirm it, so it may well be apocryphal.”

Democrats passed a much narrower bill, SB 1530, that pared away the due-process procedures for teachers being charged with offenses involving drugs, sex, and violence against children. Not that they got much love from union reps, who accused legislators from both parties of “grandstanding” on the issue.

Huff issued a chart showing that the Democrats’ bill wouldn’t alter the sometimes laborious dismissal procedures for teachers accused of a raft of other vile offenses that don’t fall into the new category of “serious and egregious” acts.

The odd thing is that, after the Democrats gutted an identical version of Huff’s bill in the Assembly this week, leaving in only two small reforms, the Republican co-sponsor of AB 2028 waxed poetic on the bipartisan achievement in a press release. “It was great to see Assembly Democrats today set politics aside and work with us to pass these vital reforms to get those who try to harm our kids out of the classroom,” said Assemblymember Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita.

Not wanting to get caught in this dogfight, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy testified for both the Republican and Democratic versions.

Stepping up to community college plate

“I am a community college success story,” proudly proclaimed Jessie Ryan at a news conference Wednesday after the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the Student Success Act. SB 1456 starts the process of implementing some of the 22 recommendations in the Student Success Task Force report, which was released late last year.

Ryan, the associate director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, grew up with a “struggling, single welfare mother,” and said community college was truly her “gateway to opportunity.”  She was admittedly fortunate that her college helped her develop an education plan and held an orientation that put Ryan “on a path to success.”

Sen. Lowenthal, with community college leaders and students, announcing passage of SB 1456. (Click to enlarge)
Sen. Lowenthal, with community college leaders and students, announcing passage of SB 1456. (Click to enlarge)

SB 1456, by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), chair of the Education Committee, calls on all the state’s 112 community colleges to provide all students with the type of support Ryan received. More than half of all community college students fail to receive an AA Degree, earn a certificate, or transfer to a four-year college within six years, and the figures for Latino and African American students are even worse.

But the big drivers in the bill for boosting success were tempered amid an outcry from students and the reality of state finances.  Provisions requiring students to declare a goal and not to exceed a certain number of units in order to be eligible for Board of Governors (BOG) fee waivers will not take effect unless colleges have the resources to provide the needed support services, said Lowenthal.  Just looking at one of those, counseling services is daunting.  On average, there are 1900 students for each counselor.

The bill would create a new fund which repurposes the $50 million in the matriculation fund to provide colleges with some money to focus on education planning and advising, but it’s not nearly enough, and the chancellor’s office said they’re looking to schools to develop innovative programs to help students make good decisions about which classes to take.

“These reforms are about doing the most we can with what we have,” said Erik Skinner, Executive Vice Chancellor of programs.  “The next step is to make the case for more investment.”

Bus Stop

Gov. Brown’s effort to eliminate funding for home-to-school transportation at the time of the mid-year trigger cuts sparked legislation by Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena) to introduce legislation protecting school bus service.

AB 1448 requires transportation funding for next year to be “at least equal to the appropriation provided in the budget for 2011-12.”   The bill holds a special place for Los Angeles Unified, which, under a court-ordered desegregation plan must provide transportation.

Budget uncertainty marked many bills that came before the committees this week leading to one surprisingly stinging exchange between two lawmakers.  During the debate on AB 1448, Assemblymember Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), asked fellow education committee member Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) why the democrats were trying to protect the school transportation funds when they were the ones who supported putting it in the trigger cuts when they approved the governor’s budget plan last year.  Williams retorted almost before she could finish, noting that republicans forced their hand.  “With all due respect,” said Williams, “that wouldn’t have happened if you had the courage to vote for taxes to support our education system.”

Click here for a list of education bills and their status

No love for Gov’s comm. college plans

Two months after the release of the budget trailer bill, the Department of Finance yesterday was unable to provide specific details on Governor Brown’s sweeping proposal to change the way community colleges are funded.

At a hearing before the Senate’s budget subcommittee on education, community college officials also questioned the reasoning behind that proposal and others that were considered and rejected following a yearlong review by the Student Success Task Force on community colleges.

The governor has recommended eliminating the current model, which funds community colleges based on how many full-time equivalent students (FTES) are enrolled, and replacing it with a system built around how successful colleges are at meeting performance standards. Schools would receive a 4 percent annual increase in their base budget for reaching those goals.

But at Monday’s hearing, finance officials couldn’t say what the standards are or how they’ll be measured. “We don’t have those metrics,” Juliana Morozumi told the panel. When pressed for some examples by Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), she indicated that successful outcome would probably include degree completion and transfer rates.

In an uneasy exchange, Wright suggested that some colleges could be penalized under this system for having a large number of students who just take a couple of classes they need to improve their job skills.  “That’s why I said we’re still working on it,” answered Morozumi.

The Legislative Analyst’s office and community college officials gave the governor a verbal pat on the back for raising the issue of accountability, but doubted this plan would fly. For starters, it would be a hard sell to legislators because it removes much of their authority for allocating resources to community colleges. It also leaves little time to develop what would probably be controversial accountability criteria and measurements by the time the final budget is approved. Additionally, the Student Success Task Force took a strong stand against performance-based funding.

“I appreciate the governor’s interest in reform and I’m hopeful he will buy into the reforms that we have suggested in the Student Success Task Force,” Chancellor Jack Scott said during a phone call last night. “To suddenly change the whole system to outcomes I think is frankly improbable.”

Sample student success scorecard (source:  Student Success Task Force report) Click to enlarge
Sample student success scorecard (source: Student Success Task Force report) Click to enlarge

The Chancellor’s office already has a working group developing metrics for student success scorecards recommended by the task force to promote better accountability and transparency.

Budget is bigger priority

Most people at the hearing saw the discussion of how to fund community colleges as something of a distraction compared with the issue of how much funding the schools will receive.

In the past three years, community colleges have lost about $1 billion (not including de facto cuts from no statutory COLA increases), and there’s a chance that will go even higher before the current school year is out.  Already in 2011-12, community colleges have taken more than half-a-million in reductions.

  • $400 million reduction in general fund apportionments
  • $102 million in mid-year trigger cuts
  • $149 million “February surprise” from lower than expected property taxes and student fee revenues (despite an increase in fees from $26 to $36 per unit)

There’s also a chance they’ll have to eat another $146 million this year if revenue from the dissolution of county redevelopment agencies is lower than the Administration’s estimate.

“I think this represents a very very major challenge for our districts and it’s possible that some would not be able to make it,” said Community College Vice Chancellor of Finance Dan Troy.

Colleges are hoping that Gov. Brown will give some indication of what the rest of this year looks like financially when he releases the May revise budget in about a month.

Next year is a white-knuckle unknown.  If the Governor’s tax initiative passes, $218 million will go toward paying down the community college deferral.  If it fails, the deferral stays and the colleges absorb an additional $30 million in programmatic cuts and, most likely, another mid-year trigger cut.

Enrollment has fallen by 400,000 since the cuts began. (Source:  Community College Chancellor's office). Click to enlarge.
Enrollment has fallen by 400,000 since the cuts began. (Source: Community College Chancellor's office). Click to enlarge.

At a time when more people need postsecondary education to be prepared for the increasingly skilled requirements of decent-paying jobs, these reductions are having the opposite effect.  Community Colleges have lost 400,000 students in four years, falling from a high of 2.8 million to 2.4 million today.

Students are being turned away at Ohlone College in Fremont, the chair of the Board of Trustees told the subcommittee.  “The demand has grown over 44 percent in 15 years, said Greg Bonaccorsi.  But funding cuts forced the school to scale back courses and now “students are being turned away,” said Bonaccorsi.   “It violates the tenet of public education.”