Foster youths’ financial climb through college getting even steeper

The last time Lerone Matthis was released from the Division of Juvenile Justice, in April 2008, he feared he had reached bottom.

“I was discouraged by the prospects for a meaningful future,” Matthis recalled.

He didn’t have a place to rest his head, bathe, or change his clothes. He wore the same jeans and a white shirt that was dingy around the neck because it hadn’t been washed for a month. He bought socks from a neighborhood liquor store, relied on relatives and friends for food and shelter, and at times the former foster youth simply went hungry.

However, Matthis had earned a GED in jail. When he got out, he enrolled in City College of San Francisco through an educational support system for the formerly incarcerated. Still, the 29-year-old single father of two young children never believed he would graduate.

Lerone Matthis at his graduation from City College of San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Steve Ngo, City College).
Lerone Matthis at his graduation from City College of San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Steve Ngo, City College).

“Four years ago, I did not know what it meant to dream, to believe in a future, or to have faith in myself,” Matthis recalled last Saturday, in a commencement speech to hundreds of faculty, administrators, and students at City College, where he graduated with honors.

This fall, Matthis will enter the University of California, Davis, where he plans to major in managerial economics, continue studying for a master’s degree in tax accounting, and eventually become a Certified Public Accountant.

The Richmond resident credits the Guardian Scholars Program for his transformation. The nationally recognized, privately funded program provides college financial assistance and academic guidance to former foster youth at more than 30 campuses across California, including private universities.

Guardian Scholars receive up to $5,000 to pay for costs not covered by financial aid, such as rent, transportation, and childcare. But now Guardian Scholars is finding it difficult to meet the growing needs of former foster youth. Michael McPartlin, coordinator of the Guardians Scholars Program at City College, said he no longer advertises the program because it is filled to capacity. Currently, it serves about 200 of the 900 students who have identified themselves as former foster youth.

Access to higher education, and the employment and economic advantages that go with it, continues to be dismal for former foster care youth. It’s estimated that between 7 and 13 percent of former foster youth enroll in college.

A 2010 report by Casey Family Programs found that only 2 percent of young people from foster care complete their bachelor’s degree, compared to 30 percent of the general population. Common barriers to college include low high school graduation rates, emotional and mental health issues, long-term effects of abuse and neglect, academic learning gaps, and a poor system of transferring school records, according to the Casey Family website. Paying for college is also a major impediment.

In his May budget revise, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to decrease Cal Grant awards in the 2012-13 academic year by $111.5 million, by lowering the amount students can get while attending public colleges. If approved, this would affect about 30,800 students, according to the governor’s website.

In addition, starting next month, changes to the Federal Pell Grant program will limit the number of years students can receive the aid from nine to six years. This fails to consider that former foster youth, as well as other low-income students, often start in remedial math and English courses due to challenges in their K-12 education, and may need three or four semesters to qualify for college-level courses. For these students, it can take more than six years to complete their undergraduate degree.

Sugyn Paynay, a 22-year-old Guardian Scholar who is completing her Associate of Art degree in child development, had to take four remedial English courses before she could enroll in an English course that was transferable to a four-year university. Even with priority registration available to Guardian Scholars, some of the other classes Paynay needed were full when she went to sign up.

The only way she can pay for her education is by taking out student loans, something she says will be difficult since she plans follow a career path where she may not earn enough to pay back large loans.

“It’s okay to get a loan if you’re becoming a nurse. You’ll eventually make a good [amount] of money, but I’m going into teaching,” she said. “Getting a loan will be a real financial burden while I’m in school, as well as in the future.”

In spite of educators’ enthusiasm to improve access to higher education for foster care youth, government agencies are faced with the realities of persistent budget deficits, said Jill Berrick, co-director of the Center for Child and Youth Policy at the University of California Berkeley.

“Until the economy turns around, very few social programs in California are going to be experiencing anything close to full funding,” she said.

On the Saturday of his graduation from City College, a white, red, and blue ribbon with a medal hung around Matthis’ neck. His graduation cap had the year “2012” airbrushed on it. On the back of his black graduation gown were two large pictures of his children with the words that kept him pushing forward when things became challenging: “Congratulations Daddy.”

“My kids love their daddy. But I worried they would never be proud of me,” Matthis said.

Being part of the Guardian Scholars Program, and other support groups on campus, allowed him to face the emotions he felt as a teen. This year, he spoke at a conference in San Diego about mental health problems in black males as part of his efforts to educate others about young men in the foster care system or correctional facilities. As a Guardian Scholar, he says, he learned to raise his own expectations of what he can accomplish.

“Although former foster youth are dealing with significant challenges,” said Matthis, “they can and will succeed if given the right tools or guidance.”

Rosa Ramirez (@rosamramirez) is a Bay Area reporter who has covered health, immigration, Hispanic affairs and food policy. She recently completed a dual master’s program in journalism and Latin American Studies from UC Berkeley. A longer version of this article appeared in The Chronicle of Social Change.

Closing the bubble in foster care

Julio is not looking forward to his 19th birthday. On that day in December, he’ll lose his apartment, his living expenses, and the support of the state’s foster care system. One month later, in January 2013, the young Modesto man will be eligible to reapply for foster services under AB 12, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2010.

Four weeks may not seem like a long time, but for Julio – who doesn’t want his last name used – it couldn’t come at a worse time. Next December he’ll be taking finals at Modesto Junior College, on the way to earning a four-year degree at Cal State Stanislaus, and he says the pending disruption in his life is scary.

“During that time I wouldn’t know where I would be and where I would get my money from; I would be pretty much homeless unless I found somewhere to live,” said Julio. “You wouldn’t have a place to stay even during finals, which is the most stressful time of the year; you would have to move at that time.”

Julio is one of the so-called foster care “bubble” youth. These are young adults who fall into an unintended consequence of AB 12. That bill, by Assemblyman Jim Beall (D-San José), allows foster youth to remain in the system until they turn 20 (possibly 21 if the Legislature funds it). But in order to win the signature of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Beall had to agree to phase in the change over three years.

  1. Effective January 1, 2012, extends foster care to eligible youth up to their 19th birthday;
  2. Effective January 1, 2013, extends foster care to eligible youth up to their 20th birthday; and
  3. Effective January 1, 2014, extends foster care to eligible youth up to their 21st birthday.

The way the legislation is written, young adults who turn 19 between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012 must leave the foster care system. They can reapply on January 1, 2013, and then go through the same thing again when they turn 20.

After 18 FAQs for foster youth. (Source:  Calif. Dept. of Social Services). Click to enlarge.
After 18 FAQs for foster youth. (Source: Calif. Dept. of Social Services.) Click to enlarge.

So this year Beall introduced AB 1712 to patch up the holes in his original legislation and provide continuous coverage up to age 21. It’s actually the second cleanup bill; last year, the Legislature passed AB 212, which established the process for implementing the age changes.

“It’s a fundamental shift in the whole mentality of the foster care system,” Beall explained. “You think any 20-year-old kid with limited education can find a job now? I don’t. The idea is to get them positioned to go into vocational training or get into college and get a degree.”

Advocates and many juvenile court judges agree. Beall’s legislation is supported by the California Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, California Coalition for Youth, and the California State Association of Counties.

Los Angeles County has been permitting foster youth to stay beyond age 18 for several years now, said Harvey Kawasaki, Division Chief of Youth Development Services. Even before AB 12, courts there routinely allowed young adults in foster care to stay in the system, and Kawasaki says a little over 78 percent, or 212 emancipated foster youth, decided to stay in the program. That’s a little more than the County expected.

“To me, it really is based upon what the youth wants to do and the ability of the youth along with their social worker to develop a plan and have concrete things in place,” said Kawasaki. “I get concerned when I hear, ‘Oh, I’m going to live with my friends.’”

Los Angeles County is one of a handful that does this willingly and on its own. The others are San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo. The group Fostering Media Connections, along with UC Berkeley’s Center for Social Services Research, created an interactive map showing where the counties stand.

During the gap period, Los Angeles County picks up the tab, which Kawasaki said varies depending on each foster youth’s circumstances and needs. In Modesto, Julio receives $776 a month for living expenses, including rent and food. A study on the costs and benefits of AB 12 estimates the annual price of extending foster care cost through 21 at approximately $37,948 per person. Of that, the federal government contributes $13,282 and counties pay $14,800.

Financial benefits of extending foster care. (Source:  California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act and the Costs and Benefits of Extending Foster Care to 21). Click to enlarge.
Financial benefits of extending foster care. (Source: California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act and the Costs and Benefits of Extending Foster Care to 21.) Click to enlarge.

But the researchers say the benefits far outweigh the costs in higher rates of college going, fewer high school dropouts, fewer teen pregnancies, better job training, and fewer people on public assistance or in prison. The study’s authors estimate that allowing young adults to remain in foster care until they’re 21 in order to attend college or vocational school increases their work-life earnings by $84,000.

AB 1712 is scheduled to come before the Assembly Appropriations Committee tomorrow. Today, several dozen foster youth are holding a rally in support of the measure at the State Capitol. Assemblyman Beall believes the committee will pass it. When asked why he’s so optimistic given the state’s fiscal troubles, he responded, “Because that’s the right thing to do. If you don’t do it, what does that say?”

To learn more:

Foster youth deserve to be left out of Brown’s plan to combine categorical funds

In 1981, the California State Legislature launched the Foster Youth Services program to address the educational needs of foster children, putting California at the vanguard of a national movement to level the educational playing field for students in foster care.

But dramatic changes to how K-12 education is funded in Governor Jerry Brown’s latest proposed budget threaten this program. The governor’s January budget plan consolidates most of the categorical funding streams for schools and folds them into a new “weighted student formula.” Foster Youth Services (FYS) would be consolidated, leaving it up to the state’s 1,000 school districts to decide whether or not to maintain the program.

Foster youth advocates and experts argue that since FYS is a small, specialized program, targeting a unique and vulnerable student population, it should be maintained as a separate categorical program, just like special education.

“In the process of reorganizing our state’s educational funding, the needs of this small group of young people may well be overlooked,” wrote Amy Lemley, policy director of the John Burton Foundation, in one of her widely read child welfare blogs.

Even administrators who are happy to get out from the morass of categorical programs say FYS is different. “I am very supportive of the governor’s proposal,” said Dr. Julian Crocker, superintendent of the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education. But he quickly added, “Having said that, in a sweeping proposal like this there may be exceptions, and Foster Youth Services is one.”

Three decades ago, Foster Youth Services was launched in six pilot school districts to ensure that instruction, tutoring, academic counseling, and the provision of academic services were a priority for students in foster care. Since then the program has expanded to all 58 counties, where FYS coordinators work to provide stable school environments in the often-turbulent bustle of foster care. At a little more than $15 million, the program is one of the smaller categoricals being washed into the weighted student formula.

In its 2010 annual report, FYS found that 71 percent of students in the program graduated from high school, earned a certificate of completion or GED, or passed the California High School Proficiency Exam. That’s compared to about 50 percent nationwide, according to studies.

Data like this, albeit limited, has made FYS a model program for advocates across the nation, who have long argued that heightened educational opportunity for students in foster care is a key component to unlocking their potential and adequately serving the responsibility the public took on when removing these children from their biological families. Last October, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved an amendment by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known as No Child Left Behind), with marked similarities to FYS.

Support for FYS reaches most of the highest levels in California government – at least it used to. In its 2007 report, Students First, Governor Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence specifically recommended that students in foster care be treated differently in any discussion of the future of categorical spending, “because these students are ultimately the responsibility of the state, and the current accountability system does not ensure that they are receiving the supports they need.”

Teri Kook, Director of Child Welfare at the Stuart Foundation, agrees with the distinction cast by the Committee. “We have a higher level of responsibility for children when we are acting as their parent,” Kook said.

Kook argued that if FYS is pooled with all the other categorical funds the state could lose much of the progress in data collection and service delivery gained over the past 30 years.

Formal debate over the future of FYS will begin on February 16, at a hearing before the State Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.

Daniel Heimpel is the Director of Fostering Media Connections, a San Francisco-based journalism initiative focusing on foster care and vulnerable children.

Linking foster youth and academics

A first-of-its-kind statewide longitudinal study comparing students in foster care with similar students who were never in the foster system is underway, using a unique linking of data systems that protects students’ privacy while identifying the barriers to academic success for foster youth.

Of the more than 59,500 foster youth in California, about 37,000 are school age.  They tend to do worse academically than other students, and are twice as likely to drop out of high school. Researchers hope the study will pinpoint when and where the problems begin that cause many foster youth to struggle in school.

“It will help us understand the different pathways that foster youth have,” said project manager Kristine Frerer, with UC Berkeley’s Center for Social Services Research (CSSR). “Are there junctures where foster youth take a different pathway? Are there areas where we can be more supportive in terms of policy or practice.”

Encryption Process for Foster Youth Study. (Source: Center for Social Services Research, UC Berkeley) Click to enlarge.
Encryption Process for Foster Youth Study. (Source: Center for Social Services Research, UC Berkeley) Click to enlarge.

Using encrypted data almost as hard to crack as the Enigma code, CSSR linked foster youth in the state’s Child Welfare Services Case Management System with nearly identical non-foster youth in Cal-PASS, the only system in the state that collects data on individual students as they move from kindergarten through college. Although Cal-PASS is voluntary, 8,275 schools in 446 districts participate, along with every community college and University of California campus, and all but four California State University campuses.

The two groups of students were matched by a number of variables including grade, gender, race, ethnicity, special education, poverty, and performance level on the California Standards Tests.

The study is divided into three segments: elementary and middle school, high school, and college. Frerer said researchers are analyzing the first set of data right now.  It follows foster youth in high school to see how they compare with non-foster youth when it comes to graduating and going to college.

Missing links to higher ed

Educators anticipate that linking the two databases will make it easier to keep track of foster youth when they move, which happens with surprising frequency. Nearly a third of foster children are placed in three or more foster homes, and about 12 percent live in at least five foster homes, according to a 2001 study by CSSR.

Pamela Hosmer said her district is trying to piece together records for a student who’s facing his 22nd move.  Hosmer is program manager of the Children and Youth in Transition department in San Diego Unified, which has one of the best student information systems in the state.  She said although the district has come very far in collecting data on foster youth, “there are still gaps in their credits and in their assessment scorecards; we still spend an inordinate amount of time tracking down records.”  The study will investigate how those transitions, moving from home to home and school to school, are related to foster youth outcomes in school.

Lauren Davis Sosenko, with the Institute for Evidence-Based Change, which is partnering with CSSR, said they’ll also profile groups of high-achieving foster youth to see “what foster youth who complete university or college look like demographically, and what other common experiences and outcomes they share?”*

What happens to foster youth in college has been relatively unexplored until now, but it’s becoming more important with the passage of Assembly Bill 12, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, which allows foster youth to remain in the system until they turn 21.

At California State University, budget cuts, increasing tuition and a record number of applicants have already limited enrollment, thereby increasing competition.  “Students need to state their college plans as early as their freshman year in high school,” said Connie Hernandez Robbins, assistant director of the Guardian Scholars program for foster youth at San Jose State University.  But when they move around so much, foster youth often don’t get to finish classes and don’t have anyone at home looking out for them, supporting them and encouraging them to apply to college.

“The more we can have the two systems work together to identify when a youth is not in school and when they are in school, we can provide administrators at the different schools systems with information on how they help that student get back on track with their education,” said Hernandez Robbins.

Time on their side

Compared with the crawling pace of getting CALPADS, the statewide student data base, off the ground, progress on the foster youth data set has surpassed the one-minute mile.  We first wrote about the effort to link the two data system last February.  Last month, researchers released a pilot study entitled First Look:  Foster youth education outcomes in four California counties.

First Look provided some indication of the academic fissure affecting foster youth, but it was a limited study, a snapshot rather than a longitudinal video.  Still, it illustrated what many educators feared, that foster youth lag behind their classmates on every California Standards Test.  When those results are disaggregated, they breakdown according to similar lines as non-foster youth –   Latino, African American and special education foster youth score below all others, as do foster youth attending the poorest schools.

Initial results of the longitudinal report could come as soon as next month.  San Diego’s Hosmer is waiting for that before making any formal recommendations.  “Until we have the real data that comes from school districts, I think it’s still just going to be guesses, educated guesses.”

* The study is funded by the Stuart Foundation, which is also a funder of TOPed.

Foster youth get a voice

It’s not often anymore that California is regarded as a bellwether for how to make good policy for children, but that’s what’s happening with the foster care system. This week, in Oakland, representatives of eight counties presented their final reports on a six-year effort to transform foster care, known as the California Connected by 25 Initiative, or CC25I.

“In terms of planning, you’d be hard pressed to find a planning process anywhere in human services at the state level that has involved as many people over as long a period of time as this has,” said Mark Courtney, a professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

CC25I released two reports highlighting the model programs and successful strategies developed by the pilot counties to improve life for foster youth who are aging out of the system.  Promising Strategies from the California Connected by 25 Initiative contains tips on developing community partnerships, collecting data, and getting current and former foster youth involved in policy discussions.

The Premise and Promise of the California Connected by 25 Initiative describes how well the strategies worked. Nearly all the counties created collaborative programs with community organizations, schools, and businesses. Santa Clara County, for example, received an award for partnering with the county’s human resources office to create a process that allows foster youth to apply for multiple job openings with a single application.

In everything from education to housing, things improved for foster youth in a relatively short time.  Between the 2008-09 academic year and 2010-11, the number of

In just three years of CC25I, foster youth showed significant academic gains. (Source: Stuart and Johnson Foundations). Click to enlarge.
In just three years of CC25I, foster youth showed significant academic gains. (Source: Stuart and Johnson Foundations) Click to enlarge.

students passing the high school exit exam increased by 25%, and the percentage completing some or all of the A-G courses required for admission to UC or CSU jumped from 31% to 45%.

The six-year, $6 million effort was funded primarily by the Stuart and Walter S. Johnson foundations* to correct what they saw as a huge gap in foster care, namely creating lasting relationships. But what made the project truly unusual, and so successful so quickly, was including former and current foster youth as equal participants.

Respecting youth voices

Lyssa Trujillo was 17 when she and her younger sister and brother were placed in foster care.  She and her sister were split from her brother and sent to live with an aunt and uncle they barely knew, who forbade them from having any contact with her father. Trujillo did anyway, emailing him on the sly.

She said child welfare didn’t intervene and she felt insignificant. “My voice as a young person wasn’t respected and honored because it was more about maintaining the placement so that I stayed there until I was 18,” said Trujillo.

Now 26, the soft-spoken, poised young woman has a baccalaureate degree from UC Santa Cruz and a job as a youth engagement technical assistant with CC25I, and said she feels like she’s witnessing a culture shift within child welfare, that now a team is making the decisions and all voices are heard.

Lyssa Trujillo is a youth engagement technical assistant for the California Connected by 25 Initiative.  She is a former foster youth.  (photo, K. Baron) Click to enlarge.
Lyssa Trujillo is a youth engagement technical assistant for the California Connected by 25 Initiative. She is a former foster youth. (Photo: K. Baron) Click to enlarge.

“I would say there have been times of awe for me that I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘You know when you said this one thing it has resonated with me since then, and I work with youth differently, and I really think about my preparation with them,'”  said Trujillo.

Kareena Blackmon’s experience in foster care went far beyond frustrating rules. During 14 years in foster care, she said she was moved nearly every year, often placed with adults who meted out harsh punishments like holding her head under water and beating her with a weight belt.

Like Trujillo, the 23-year-old Blackmon is drawing on her experiences to help reshape policy as a youth advocate for child welfare services in Solano County. But there’s still a lingering anger at state officials for permitting the abuse to continue.

“The state decided that my parents were unfit, so you became my parents,” Blackmon said she told state and county child

Kareena Blackmon spent 14 years in the foster care system.  She is a youth advocate for child welfare services in Solano County.  (photo, K. Baron) Click to enlarge.
Kareena Blackmon spent 14 years in the foster care system. She is a youth advocate for child welfare services in Solano County. (Photo: K. Baron) Click to enlarge.

welfare officials at their meetings. All she wanted, she explained to them, was for someone to find her father’s relatives so she could be with family, but it never happened. “Imagine just not even having that. That’s the least you can do, I tell them.”

Through CC25I that’s changing. The current philosophy is finding a permanent place for foster youth, either with relatives or other families who will create similar bonds.

What would a good parent do?

Having basic needs met –  food, shelter, clothing – is critical, but doesn’t provide the close human connections that most of us take for granted. Even after kids graduate from high school and go off to college, they have a lifeline. That’s not the case for foster youth when they turn 18 and age out of state care.

Half of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States live with one or both parents, said the University of Chicago’s Courtney. At age 24, a quarter of them are still at home. But for foster youth, until recently the policy was just the opposite. When they turned 18, they could live with anyone except their foster family.

Courtney is preparing to publish the first longitudinal study of foster youth, which had some unexpected findings. “I would say one of the things I was surprised by is how many of the young people in Illinois, when given the option to remain in state care, did,” said Courtney, “because there was a sort of narrative out there that young people hate foster care, they can’t wait to get out.”

The report, known as the Midwest Study, followed more than 700 teens in foster care in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin from age 17 to 26. Of the three states, Illinois allows foster youth to remain in the system until they’re 21.

On January 1, 2012, California foster youth will have that option when AB 12, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, takes effect.

“We need to make it so if you’re the place they want to come back to, we maximize the likelihood they can do that. But at the policy level, the policy must be that they can come back,” said Courtney, thumping his hand on the table for emphasis. “That’s how to think about it – what would a good parent do? That’s how our policy and practice should be carried out.”

*Stuart and Johnson are funders of TOP-Ed

Brown saves ed bills for last

Kathryn Baron contributed to this article. See additional coverage today in TOPed.

Signatures and vetoes went flying out of the State Capitol over the weekend as Gov. Brown raced to meet the October 9 deadline to take action on all the bills passed by the Legislature. He signed three bills that will lead to significant changes in what students are taught in the classroom. Two will advance the process of adopting the Common Core standards in math and reading; the third will start the process of updating the state’s science curriculum. And he okayed bills making it easier for foster youth to enroll in college, allowing trained school staff to administer a life-saving drug for epileptic seizures, and giving the public more say in what school districts do to programs once protected by categorical funding that’s now available for general school use.

AB 250 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): The State Board of Education adopted Common Core in August 2010. This bill sets out the timetable for creating curriculum frameworks, which will put muscle and flesh on the skeleton of the basic standards to better guide teachers on what students are expected to know. The math frameworks will be completed by May 30, 2013 and English language arts a year later. That in turn will lead to the process for textbook adoption. The bill also extends the contract for the current California Standards Tests through 2014, at which point, if all is on schedule, the new Common Core assessments being developed by a consortium of states will replace them.

SB 140 (Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach): The state is scheduled to start using the new Common Core assessments in 2014, one year before the State Board of Education is to formally adopt new textbooks aligned with Common Core standards. That’s clearly backwards, so SB 140 instructs the State Department of Education and the Board to compile a list of supplemental instructional materials for math and English language arts in elementary and middle school to use in the interim. Districts will have more flexibility than in the past in choosing materials; they’ll have a lot to choose from, since other states will be sharing what they’ve developed.

SB 300 (Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley): Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will appoint a committee including elementary and secondary science teachers, school administrators, and university professors to revise science standards for the first time since they were created 13 years ago. Their product will go to the State Board no later than March 2013 for its approval by July 30, 2013. The new standards will be based on the Next Generation Science Standards and will be the science version of the Common Core standards, a multistate effort, led by Achieve Inc. The standards will be an elaboration of the Framework for K-12 Education, written by the Board of Science Education of the National Research Council.

SB 161 (Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar): Until a few years ago, school nurses or trained teachers and staff administered a potentially life-saving emergency drug treatment to children suffering severe epileptic seizures. Nowadays, not only are school nurses a dying breed, but those remaining are no longer allowed to train anyone else to administer the drug, known as Diastat.

State law already allows teachers and staff to administer other emergency medications, but Diastat is different because it’s given rectally. SB 161 allows school staff to voluntarily take a course to learn how to administer Diastat with parents’ written consent.

AB 189 (Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park): Ever since the Legislature approved categorical flex starting in 2008, school districts have been able to take money that had been targeted for specific programs, like adult education, and put it into their general funds. Until now, the state hasn’t been able to track where the money is going and the public has had little say in what happens to categorical programs. AB 189 requires districts to hold public hearings when they propose eliminating categorical programs and creates a new resource code for reporting the expenditures to the state. The law also helps preserve some adult education programs by allowing districts to charge fees for classes in English as a second language and citizenship. AB 189 sunsets on July 1, 2015.

AB 194 (Jim Beall, D-San Jose): Foster youth have a dismal record of attending and completing college. About 20 percent of foster youth enroll in college, and barely 3 percent graduate. AB 194 requires the 112 community college campuses and California State University campuses to grant priority enrollment to current and former foster youth up through age 24, and urges the University of California to do the same. Supporters hope the new law will help keep foster youth in college by making it easier for them to get the classes they need to graduate, especially as budget cuts have forced public colleges to reduce the number of course sections they offer. The bill would sunset July 1, 2017.

Baker’s dozen bills before Brown

(Kathy and John combined efforts on this post.)

It all comes down to one person. Dozens of education bills passed in the final days of the legislative session are now in Gov. Brown’s hands. He has until October 9th to sign or veto. Here are highlights of some of the most controversial and comprehensive measures.

SB 611 (Darrell Steinberg, D- Sacramento): The University of California has approved thousands of Career Technical Education courses as qualifying for admission to UC and CSU campuses under the A-G requirements. But nearly all of them have been approved only as electives, not as core subjects. This bill would authorize a new UC institute to work directly with high school teachers to develop dozens of CTE courses that would qualify as math, English, and science courses for UC and CSU admission – a big shift in UC’s approach to CTE and potentially a boost for partnership academies and programs that stress career and college readiness.

SB 547 (Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento):  This bill would replace California’s long-standing school rating system, known as the Academic Performance Index, or API, with an Education Quality Index, or EQI. It would also fulfill the original intent of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999 by requiring the State Department of Education, in consultation with an advisory committee, to develop multiple measures for the EQI rating that include graduation rates, a college preparedness index, and a career readiness index in addition to the STAR test and High School Exit Exam. A similar bill, AB 400, passed the Legislature in 2007, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

AB 1330 (Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach): High school students would be able to substitute a year-long career technical course (CTE) for either a year of foreign language or of visual/performing arts as one of 13 courses needed to graduate from high school. Supporters of the bill say it would give students at risk of dropping out an engaging alternative to keep them interested in school. Opponents, who include those who want to qualify more students for four-year colleges, worry districts will cut back courses in arts and foreign languages, making it harder for students to qualify for CSU and UC campuses. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year.

AB 47 (Jared Huffman, D-Marin): Under the 2-year-old Open Enrollment Act, students in the state’s 1,000 lowest-performing schools are theoretically eligible to attend better schools outside of their own district (it’s too soon to see how often it’s been used). This bill would tighten eligibility rules to weed out schools that, because of quirks in the law, are not among the lowest-performing 10 percent. It would  exclude schools with over 700 API, among the new requirements. Open Enrollment was passed to strengthen the state’s Race to the Top application. Republican senators strongly opposed loosening the law.

SB 300 (Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley): California’s science standards haven’t been touched since their adoption 13 years ago. This bill, written by the California Science Teachers Association, would establish a process to revise them by 2013. Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson would appoint a committee of science educators that would do the work under a tight timeline; the State Board of Education would have to approve the new standards. The standards would be based on Next Generation Science Standards, a multistate effort that would become the science version of the Common Core standards. Traditionalists who created the current standards are skeptical.

AB 131 (Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles): Undocumented students who meet certain requirements have been allowed to pay in-state tuition at California’s public colleges and universities since 2002. But efforts to provide them with public financial aid have failed for years. That began to change this year when Gov. Brown signed AB 130, the first of two bills by Assemblyman Cedillo collectively known as the California Dream Act. While AB 130 allows undocumented students who meet the in-state tuition requirements to apply for private financial aid offered through state colleges and universities, AB 131 is a harder sell. It would open CalGrants to these students. Opponents say that in a time of steep budget cuts it’s unfair to legal residents to give money to undocumented students, and they warn that it could create an incentive for more people to come here illegally.

AB 743 (Marty Block, D-Lemon Grove): Nowhere is the disjuncture between high school and college expectations more pronounced than in the state’s 112 community colleges. Between 70 and 85 percent of students who take a community college placement exam aren’t ready for college-level math or English. But there’s no consistency in the tests, because there are nearly as many different exams as there are community colleges. AB 743 would establish uniform placement exams in math and English.  They wouldn’t be mandatory, but colleges that continued to use their own placement tests would miss out of big savings from the volume discount.

SB 161 (Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar): Children who suffer severe epileptic seizures risk brain damage or even death unless they receive emergency medical care within five minutes. SB 161 would allow school staff to voluntarily take a course to learn how to administer Diastat, a an emergency anti-seizure medication, with parents’ written consent. State law already allows teachers and staff to administer other emergency medications, but Diastat is different because it’s given rectally. Although the bill has strong bipartisan support, it’s been targeted by major labor unions, including both teachers unions and the nurses association, which tried to use it as leverage to reverse the loss of school nurses in recent years due to budget cuts.

Foster youth

AB 194 (Jim Beall, D-San Jose): Assemblyman Beall has been a strong proponent of legislation to help foster youth complete their education. AB 194 requires the 112 community college campuses and California State University campuses to grant priority enrollment to current and former foster youth up through age 24, and urges the University of California to do the same. Supporters hope the bill will help keep foster youth in college by making it easier for them to get the classes they need to graduate, especially as budget cuts have forced public colleges to reduce the number of course sections they offer. Currently, about 20 percent of foster youth enroll in college, and barely 3 percent graduate. The bill would sunset July 1, 2017.

AB 709 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): It’s not uncommon for foster children to be moved to different schools many times during their youth.  This bill would add a section to the state’s Health and Safety Code, bringing it into conformity with provisions of the Education Code requiring schools to immediately enroll foster youth even if they can’t provide the school with all their medical records, including proof of immunizations. This bill has no opposition and passed the Senate and Assembly without any no votes.

Common Core

Three bills before the governor would combine to place California on a timeline to prepare for the implementation of Common Core standards and assessments.

AB 250 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): The State Board of Education approved Common Core standards in math and English language arts a year ago. The state belongs to a multistate consortium that is developing the Common Core standardized tests that will be aligned to the new standards. This bill would start the process of filling in the gaps. It would require the State Board to adopt new curriculum frameworks, which flesh out standards into a detailed road map, by May 2013 for math and a year later for English language arts. It would require the state Department of Education to work with the State Board on developing training for teachers in Common Core subjects. It also would extend STAR, the current standardized tests, until the replacements are introduced in 2015.

SB 140 (Alan Lowenthal, D- Long Beach): California has postponed any new textbook adoptions until after Common Core standards are in place. But with those new standards come the new student achievement tests. In order to make sure that students are prepared for those Common Core assessments, this bill would require the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education to develop criteria for evaluating supplemental instructional materials that include Common Core content standards, and then to compile a list of those materials for kindergarten to eighth grade for English language arts and kindergarten to seventh grade for math. (Eighth grade math isn’t included because of a disagreement about whether the state’s math standard should include Algebra 1 in that grade.) Schools wouldn’t be required to choose from the list, or to use any supplemental materials. SB 140 has no organized opposition; however, votes in the Assembly and Senate were almost entirely along party lines.

AB 124 (Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar): Fuentes’ bill ensures that the Common Core standards extend to English learners. It would require the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a group of experts in English language instruction to revise and align the curriculum, materials, and assessments for Common Core so they’re appropriate for English learners.

A common thread in education bills

All three bills designed to put California on steady footing for the coming of Common Core standards are now in Gov. Brown’s hands. State lawmakers yesterday approved the last of those measures along with measures that would require a common placement exam at community colleges, provide smoother passage for foster youth at state colleges, and grant relief for schools misidentified as failing.

Preparing for the common era

Assembly member Julia Brownley’s (D-Santa Monica) bill, AB 250, gets the process rolling for California to develop curriculum frameworks and assessments that are aligned to the coming Common Core standards.

The State Board of Education adopted Common Core state standards in English language arts and math last year, but until now California hasn’t had a process in place to align the curriculum, instructional materials, and student testing with the new standards, said Brownley in a statement issued after the vote.

“The Common Core state standards establish clear goals for learning to provide students with 21st century skills they need for success, such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and creativity,” said Brownley. “Once we implement these standards we will be able to compare the academic achievements of California students with those of students across the country.”

As we reported here last week, Brownley’s bill also postpones the end of the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting program, or STAR, by a year, until January 1, 2015, when it will be replaced by the new student assessments developed for Common Core.

The bill requires the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to work with the State Board of Education to develop model professional development training in the new frameworks and standards for teachers and principals.

Her bill also does something very uncommon in government; it simplifies a few things. Currently, the group that that recommends curriculum frameworks to the State Board of Education and develops criteria for evaluating those materials is called the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission. AB 250 renames it the Instructional Quality Commission.

Under its new, lighter banner, the commission would recommend curriculum frameworks that are aligned to Common Core standards. The State Board would have until May 30, 2013 to adopt the frameworks in math, and until the following May for English language arts. Those frameworks would have to include strategies for teaching disabled students.

AB 124, by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), ensures that the standards extend to English learners. His bill requires the State Superintendent to convene a group of experts to revise the curriculum, materials, and assessments for Common Core so they’re appropriate for English learners.

Common testing at Community Colleges

One of the biggest disgraces in California’s goal to ensure all high school graduates are college ready is the number of students required to enroll in remedial classes in community college.  About 70 percent of incoming community college students aren’t prepared for college-level English.  Math is even worse; 85 percent place into remedial classes.

Numerous studies have shown that the more time a student has to spend in a remedial course, the less likely that student is to graduate.

But those numbers vary across the state’s 112 community colleges, for the most part because there are nearly as many placement exams as there are campuses.  One count, by The National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education, found more than 94 different exams, although researchers identified three placements tests that were used more than most.

It’s a frustrating situation for students who may qualify for college math in one school, then transfer and find themselves in remedial classes.

That assortment of assessments will shrink under AB 743.  The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Marty Block (D-Lemon Grove), who chairs the Higher Education committee, establishes a uniform placement exam.

The Community College Chancellor’s Office would select the test, which would be an off-the-shelf exam.  But the new test wouldn’t be mandatory.  Colleges could continue to use their own placement exams, said Paige Marlatt Dorr, a spokeswoman for the Chancellor’s office.

“This bill will be an important step forward in getting all of the colleges to use the same test,” said Marlatt Dorr, and they’ll have a financial incentive to do so.   She said the Chancellor’s office will get a volume discount with an unlimited use license.

But, even if schools opt in for the common assessment, the bill doesn’t establish a uniform passing score, so students would still face individual campus disparities.

A college boost for foster youth

Even the dismal college success rate for students in remedial education is better than the odds for foster youth.  Of the 75,000 foster youth in California, 70 percent say they want to attend college.  But only 20 percent enroll and barely 3 percent graduate.  Somewhere between 600 and 800 former foster youth attend UC, 1,200 are at CSU, and 6,500 are enrolled in community colleges.

Those numbers could drop as budget cut force the state’s public colleges and universities to reduce course sections making it more difficult for students to get into the classes they need to graduate.

While there’s no single reason for these disheartening statistics, AB 194 by Assemblyman Jim Beall of San Jose, hopes to remove at least one obstacle.  It would require California State University and community colleges to give current and former foster youth priority enrollment. The University of California, which sets its own policies, indicated its support in a letter to Beall.

If the Governor signs AB 194, it would sunset in 2017.

Fixing a flaw in the Open Enrollment Act

San Pedro Elementary School in Marin County boosted its Academic Performance Index (API) by 60 points between 2009 and 2010, but the school was labeled low-performing.

“Something is wrong with our open enrollment system when high performing schools get labeled as low performers and grouped together with schools that truly need to improve academic performance,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman in a press release after the legislature sent his bill, AB 47, to Gov. Brown.

The measure would clear up some unintended consequences of the Open Enrollment Act, the 2010 law that California had to approve to be in the running for a Race to the Top grant. Not only didn’t the state get the money, but, Huffman says, the Act set up some high achieving schools to be labeled as low performing, a designation that lets parents move their children to higher-performing schools in any other district in the state.

AB 47 would change the method for identifying schools as low-achieving to exclude any school with an API of 700 or higher, or any school that’s increased its API score by 50 points of more from one year to the next.

Huffman’s bill also exempts County Office of Education schools for special education students, but adds charter schools to the mix.

Sherry Skelly Griffith, a legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, says the Open Enrollment Act caused confusion and damaged morale at schools that were showing strong gains.  “Our Association believes that low performing schools should be held accountable,” said Griffith in a written statement, “and that can’t be accomplished if the wrong schools are labeled failing.”

New foster care regs getting closer

If only David Morrow had been born a decade later, his life in foster care and afterward might have turned out differently.

When Morrow was a year old, his mother left him and a 3- and 4-year-old brother and sister home alone while she went out.

“My understanding is that my mother was really heavily into drugs,” he said.

While she was gone, the house caught fire. The kids were all placed in foster care.

He spent most of his childhood in one foster home, until he was removed at age 16 following what he described as years of verbal abuse.

“They said I was stupid and I was dumb,” he said. “I was told that I was an orphan, nobody loved me, nobody cared about me, and it made me feel like what’s the point of living.”

Social Services looked for his mother to see if she had cleaned up her act. They found her in prison. So they placed Morrow with an aunt he had never met in the hopes of developing a lasting family relationship. It didn’t work out. “It was a shock, I was confused, I was very uncomfortable because I didn’t know them; they were like total strangers in my life, I wasn’t ready for that.”

He got into trouble and wound up in juvenile hall, and when he was released he was independent, with no money and alone. If only David Morrow had been born a decade later, he would have had more options.

Beginning January 1, 2012, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB 12) takes effects, raising the age limit for foster care over three years from 18 to 21. During that time, kids in foster care will get financial assistance with housing – including college dorms, group homes, foster homes, shared housing and transitional housing – and have access to job skills and life skills classes, mental health counseling, advice on college or vocational education, and a host of other programs designed to help them become self-sufficient.

That’s why, despite his horrible experience in foster care, Morrow believes that had he been able to remain in the system until he was 21, he might have been better off.

“Former foster youth still have a lot of unmet emotional needs,” said Morrow. “Like me; I never was given a lot of emotional support. A lot of those old experiences that I had, they molded my character and my attitude. Even today I have to work to change that.”

Congress makes it possible

What happened to Morrow wasn’t at all unusual or unpredictable. As many as 30,000 foster youth age out of the system every year, 5,000 in California, and within the first two to four years half are unemployed, 40 percent are on public assistance, a quarter have been homeless, and 20 percent are in jail or prison. Rates for college are even more dismal; in California, only 20 percent enroll, and just 2-3 percent graduate.

AB 12 was made possible by another landmark bill, H.R. 6893, the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, signed by President Bush in October 2008. Among its provisions, H.R. 6893 opened a new funding stream for states that agreed to increase the age for foster care eligibility. California is one of 12 states, and District of Columbia, that enacted new legislation to extend foster care after age 18. Several other states didn’t need to change their laws, they just had to develop plans and submit them to the federal government for approval.

So while state officials estimate it will cost about $37 million to extend foster care, but they say that will be offset by $52 million in federal funds, for a net savings to the state of $15 million.

“This is truly a historic piece of legislation,” said Cathy Senderling-McDonald, deputy executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA). “What we want to make sure is that extending foster care beyond age 18 is meaningful for the youth who participate – enabling them to develop long-lasting relationships with caring adults and attend school or training programs to help them succeed in the future. It’s not just about handing them a check each month.”

A technical process

Under the federal law, foster youth must meet at least one of five conditions to remain in care until 21.

  • completing secondary education or an equivalent credential,
  • being enrolled in an institution that provides post-secondary or vocational education,
  • participating in a program to promote or remove barriers to employment,
  • being employed for at least 80 hours per month, or
  • incapable of doing these activities due to a medical condition.

These conditions may seem specific and straightforward, but they’re not. A lot of the requirements are open to interpretation. “It gets very technical,” said Debbie Raucher with the John Burton Foundation, which is coordinating the implementation process for higher education.

So since last summer, county social services, community groups, and foster care advocacy groups have been holding stakeholder meetings throughout the state to get input from everyone involved. The last one took place in July. All that information has been sent to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), which will start releasing the regulations on October 1st.

Raucher describes the process as an “unprecedented collaboration between community activists and CDSS to make the program as effective as possible and get it right the first time.”

Foster youth take a lead role

In a significant break from past discussions surrounding foster care regulations, current and former foster youth have been very involved in developing the new guidelines, starting with the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth in Congress, which included current and former foster youth at every meeting.

California has followed that lead. Ashley McCullough, a Youth Advocate Fellow at the Westcoast Children’s Clinic, sits on Alameda County’s AB 12 implementation group.

The Stanford University graduate had to use her scholarships and financial aid to pay for her dorm room. If there had been an AB 12, foster care would have paid for her housing and she wouldn’t have had to scramble to find a place to live during the summer.

Yet McCullough still expects it will be a hard sell to encourage other foster youth to remain in the system. “Once people are 18 they’re not going to want to stay in foster care because they’ve had the system disrupt their lives long enough,” she said.

So the Alameda County group is going to roll out a marketing campaign directed at 17-year-olds and their child care workers. “To me, it’s about preventing homelessness. Foster care doesn’t do a good job of providing families for young people,” said McCullough. “You can’t take advantage of all the other opportunities if you don’t have a stable place to live.”

It may be too late for David Morrow to take advantage of the new law, but he has put his life back on track. Morrow is enrolled in community college and said he hopes to transfer to a four-year college, earn a double major in social work and business, and open a transitional housing program for former foster youth.

Dream Act sent to governor

And they’re off!  Bills flew through the senate and assembly chambers as lawmakers wrapped up as much business as possible before leaving for summer recess on Thursday afternoon.   When they return on August 15th, the docket will still be full, but the fate of some key education bills is coming into sharper focus.  Here’s where they stand.

Civil and Equal Rights

AB 130 and AB 131: California Dream Act of 2011
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo

The state senate passed and sent to Gov. Brown the first of two Dream Act bills by Assemblyman Cedillo allowing some undocumented college students to apply for private scholarships at California’s state colleges and universities.

None of this money comes from the state budget; it’s from private donors who establish scholarships administered through UC, Cal State and community colleges.  To be eligible, students will have to meet the requirements for paying in-state tuition under AB 540, a 2001 law that applies to any student, citizen or not, who attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated or earned a GED.

The bill passed by a vote of 26 to 11 along party lines, with one exception.  Republican State Senator Anthony Cannella voted with the majority.  In a prepared statement, Cannella said, “Having an educated workforce will be critical to the future strength and health of our economy, and giving eligible high-school graduates the opportunity to apply for private scholarship funds – at no cost to California taxpayers – is consistent with this goal.”

It may also help that his district, which covers Merced, Monterey and Salinas, is more than 55 percent Latino. It also has more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Cedillo’s companion bill, AB 131, faces a tougher road.  That one would let AB 540 students apply for state financial aid through the CalGrants program.  AB 131 was placed on the senate appropriations committee suspense file and won’t be considered until late August.

Status:  On the Governor’s desk.  Gov. Brown hasn’t said whether he’ll sign AB 130, however, his spokesman says the Governor “continues to support the principles behind the Dream Act and will closely consider legislation that reaches his desk.”

SB 48:  The FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act
Senator Mark Leno

Gov. Brown signed this landmark bill on Wednesday, July 13, making California the first state in the nation to include the accomplishments of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in school textbooks and instructional materials.

“History should be honest,” said the Governor in a written statement.  “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state.”

Status: Signed into law by Gov. Brown.

Charter Schools

AB 86Charter School Authorizing Petitions
Assemblyman Tony Mendoza

Gives classified employees a voice in creating a new charter school or converting an existing public school to a charter school.

Under the current charter school law, petitions for new charter schools need enough signatures from parents or guardians to equal at least half the number of students expected to enroll in the school during its first year, or by at least half the number of teachers expected to be hired the first year.

Mendoza’s bill gives classified employees a voice in creating new charter schools by adding their signatures to those currently required from teachers and other certificated staff (excluding administrators), that equal at least one-half the number of all those employees that the charter expects to hire.

Status: Ordered to a third reading in the senate.

AB 360: Charter Schools
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

This bill is intended to create more transparency in charter schools by requiring charter school board meetings to be open to the public under one of the state’s open-meeting laws – the Ralph M. Brown Act or the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, and it would require charter school governing boards to adopt conflict of interest policies.

Status:  AB 360 passed the state senate on July 14 and is headed back to the assembly to address some amendments.

AB 440: Charter Schools Academic & Fiscal Accountability
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

This bill and one in the state senate by Sen. Joe Simitian covered similar ground in setting rigorous academic standards that charter schools must meet as a condition for having their charters renewed.  The legislators, along with the California Charter Schools Association, reached an agreement on accountability standards for renewal and wrote them into AB 440 and Simitian’s bill, SB 645 (see below).  In addition, AB 440  would allow school boards to consider an operator’s history of managing charter schools and whether the school’s student population reflects the demographics of the local population when deciding whether to renew a charter. It also requires charter schools to hire the same high quality financial auditors as their school districts.

Status: Awaiting hearing in Senate appropriations committee.

SB 645: Charter School Renewals
Senator Joe Simitian

The agreement with Assemblywoman Brownley and the California Charter Schools Association amended SB 645.  Now, in addition to containing the same academic accountability standards as AB 440, this bill also makes changes to the Charter School Facility Grant Program to provide assistance with facility rent and lease costs for charter schools, based on the percentage of pupils who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

Status: Amended in the assembly and sent back to the Assembly appropriations committee.

Community College

AB 108: Community College Fee Hike
Assembly Budget Committee

Community College students could get a reprieve from new fee hikes under this legislation.  Fees are currently due to increase from $36 per unit to $46 per unit at the start of the fall 2011 term.

This bill would allow that increase only if the state’s General Fund revenue forecast for the 2011-12 fiscal year are less than $ 87,452,500,000.  If the fee hike is necessary, it would start with the winter term, rather than the fall term.

Status: AB 108 passed the state senate on July 14, and has been sent to Gov. Brown.

AB 743: Community College Common Assessments
Assemblyman Marty Block

Each of California’s 112 community colleges uses a slightly different version of the student placement tests for math and English, and each school has its own cut-off score, the grade below which students are placed in remedial courses.

Block’s bill would require the Community College Board of Governors to establish a common assessment system.

Status: AB 743 is on the Senate appropriations committee suspense file and will be considered in August after lawmakers have completed work on all other bills.

Foster Youth

SB 578: Partial Credit for Foster Youth
Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod

Education is often disrupted for foster youth because they’re frequently moved from home to home.  Sen. McLeod’s legislation helps foster youth stay on track for high school graduation by requiring schools to grant partial credit for courses a foster child was taking in one school before being moved to a different school.

Status: Scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly appropriations committee on August 17.

AB 194: Public postsecondary education: priority enrollment: foster youth
Assemblyman Jim Beall, Jr.

This bill would require the California State University and each community college district, and requests the University of California, grant priority registration for classes to foster youth and former foster youth.

Status:  Placed on the Senate appropriations committee suspense file to be considered after lawmakers have completed work on all other bills.

AB 709: Foster Children:  School Placement
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

It’s not unusual for foster youth change homes and schools many times during their childhood.  Brownley’s bill would require new school to immediately enroll foster children even if they’re missing their immunization records.

Status:  AB 709 has been ordered to a third reading in the state senate.

Health and Safety

AJR 10: School Based Health Centers
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

This resolution would declare the Legislature’s support for the school-based health center program, asking Congress to appropriate funds for the program under the 2010 federal health care reform law. The resolution also declares the Legislature’s support for including these centers in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. School based health centers provide health, dental and psychological services targeting the 1.5 million California students without health insurance. Research shows the centers improve academic performance and success by boosting attendance rates.

Status: Awaiting vote on Senate Floor.

SB 614:  Whooping Cough Immunization Grace Period
Senator Christine Kehoe

Kehoe’s bill gives California school districts a 30-day grace period from a new state law that prohibits them from enrolling any student in grades 7 through 12 who hasn’t been vaccinated against whooping cough.

Status: SB 614 passed the senate by a vote of 38-0.  It’s an urgency bill, which means it will take effect immediately if the Governor signs it.

SB 161: Emergency medical assistance: administration of epilepsy medication.
Senator Bob Huff

Since school nurses are becoming a vanishing breed due to budget cuts, this bill would allow teachers or other school personnel to receive medical training to administer a specific drug prescribed to some children with epilepsy.

It’s become a sensitive issue because the medication is a rectal suppository, and school employees are concerned they can be held legally liable if something happens to the child.  Supporters counter that this particular medication must be administered immediately when a child has a seizure and there’s no time to call a parent to come to the school.

Status:  Amended and sent back to the Assembly appropriations committee.

Standards and Assessment

SB 740Pupil Assessment
Senator Loni Hancock

One of the more controversial education bills this session, SB 740 would eliminate second-grade STAR testing.  Hancock points to research warning that high-stakes achievement tests are inappropriate for preschool and early elementary school children, and recommends diagnostic testing instead.

Opponents say that waiting until the end of third grade to learn whether students are working below grade level is too late.

Status:  Scheduled for a vote in the Assembly appropriations committee on August 17.

SB 547: Public School Performance Accountability
Senator Darrell Steinberg

SB 547 would reduce the emphasis on the California Standards Test by limiting the exams to no more than 40 percent of a high school’s overall ranking, and a minimum of 40 percent for middle and elementary schools.

It would also replace the Academic Performance Index (API), with a new system known as the Education Quality Index, or EQI, which would be based on graduation rates and how well schools prepare students for college and career success in addition to test scores. A committee headed by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson would develop other measures.

Status:  Scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly appropriations committee on August 17.

AB 224:  School Accountability:  Academic Performance Index
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla

This legislation would add some new measures to the state’s Academic Performance Index (API).  Currently, 60 percent of a school’s API ranking comes from students’ scores on the California Standards Tests.

Bonilla’s bill would include other indicators of achievement including graduation rates and preparations for college.

Status: Re-referred to the Senate appropriations committee.