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