It’s a bill’s life

California school buses won’t be wearing anything but yellow for the foreseeable future.  This week, the state Senate Education Committee killed SB 1295. Introduced by Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, it would have permitted school districts to selling advertising space on the outside of buses to raise revenue.  This is a shortsighted decision by Democrats on the Senate Education Committee,” said the Diamond Bar Republican.  “We should be providing solutions, not gambling on the future of our children.”

Democratic Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco failed to convince members of the Senate Education Committee to put some limits on executive salaries during tough economic times.  SB 967 would have prohibited Cal State University trustees from increasing top administrators’’ salaries within two years of raising student fees.   It would also have capped salaries for newly hired executives at 5 percent above what was paid to their predecessors.

Yee’s bill grew out of frustration last July when the Cal State University Board of Trustees approved paying the new president of San Diego State University a $100,000 more than his predecessor.  During that same meeting, the Board increased tuition by 12 percent, or an additional $294 per semester for undergraduates. Last month, CSU trustees agreed to 10 percent pay increases for the incoming presidents of Cal State Fullerton and East Bay.  Even State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson criticized the board for its lack of tact.

“The students we serve and the public that supports our system enjoy no immunity from the consequence of the Great Recession, which has left millions without work and more millions more working harder for less.  Why should those we select to lead our campuses be any different?” wrote Torlakson earlier this month in a public letter to CSU leaders.

On the aye side of the voting, the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday passed a measure by Senator Kevin De León to increase eligibility for CalGrants, the state higher education program that provides merit and need based funds.

The committee also approved several bills aimed at bringing down the price of textbooks and making them available electronically.  Read more about those bills here.

Coming attractions

Some of the textbook bills are up for their next vote next week.  Legislators are also scheduled to move to the next step with bills that would require information on academic achievement of students for new charters and renewals, that seek to reduce out-of-school suspensions and expulsions,  (which we wrote about here), and create a middle class scholarship program for California residents attending UC or Cal State.

We will be updating action on education bills on a weekly basis.  Click here for a table providing the status of about three dozens of those measures.

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

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.”

Lawmakers advance standards

(Kathy and John combined efforts on this post.)

Heading into the final week of the session, the Legislature has sent bills to Gov. Brown that would revise state science standards and build a bridge to the approaching Common Core with instructional materials, curricula and professional development.

California will revise K-12 science standards for the first time since they were adopted 13 years ago, a light year in a fast-changing world.

The Assembly passed yesterday and forwarded to Gov. Brown SB 300, which will authorize Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to appoint a committee of experts, including elementary and secondary science teachers, school administrators, and university professors. Under a tight timeline, they will present the revised standards to the State Board of Education by March 2013, in order for for the Board to modify and adopt them by July 30, 2013, four months later. There will be at least two public meetings before then at which the public can comment on the standards.

SB 300, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock of Berkeley, was written by the California Science Teachers Association, which has been calling for standards revisions for years – and not only because they were outdated, without mention of stem cells and biotech. Many teachers have argued there are too many science standards, leading to too little opportunity for in-depth science exploration and little understanding of scientific concepts.

The division of opinion dates back to 1998 and a bitter split between scientists who favored an inquiry-based or hands-on approach to science education and those focused on a content-based curriculum. The latter, led by then 86-year old Nobel Prize winning physicist Glenn Seaborg, won out, and California’s science standards reflect that philosophy.

The pendulum is already swinging. SB 300 directs the new standards to be based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which 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. In an interview in TOPed last month, the chairwoman of the board, Stanford physicist Helen Quinn, said that the new standards will provide a “coherence” and integration of core scientific ideas over multiple years that have been missing in the current state standards. The standards, she said, will focus on “crosscutting concepts” that stress similarities in the scientific method and approaches – analyzing data, developing models, defining problems, carrying out investigations – common to physical science, biology, and engineering.

California is competing to be named among a handful of states that will work with Achieve to create the standards. The winners were to be announced in August.

Among the critics of the new Frameworks is Ze’ev Wurman, a software engineer from Palo Alto and former adviser to the U.S. Department of Education who helped write the state’s math curriculum frameworks. Wurman fears that the new standards will be light on actual science and heavy on science appreciation. The frameworks did not call for the application of mathematical equations and techniques; the lack of integrating algebra and trigonometry would appear to be a fundamental flaw that will produce “good consumers of science and technology,” rather than prepare them for training in actual science, Wurman wrote in a blog entry.

A head start on SMARTER Balanced

Lawmakers also sent Gov. Brown the first of three bills aimed at keeping the state one step ahead of planning for the coming of Common Core.

SB 140 by State Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) requires the State Department of Education and State Board of Education to compile a list of supplemental instructional materials for math and English language arts in elementary and middle school.

It’s a stop-gap measure to make sure students are prepared for the new tests, which will cover Common Core standards. Those exams could start in 2014, but the state isn’t scheduled to take up a full-blown textbook adoption until sometime after 2015.

An early iteration of the bill nearly died in a disagreement over eighth grade math. The State Board of Education last year approved two sets of math standards for grade eight: Common Core and Algebra I. SB 140 tried to include materials for both, but ran into several roadblocks. Critics said the dual standards could lead to tracking and revert to a time when schools had two sets of expectations, often based on race, ethnicity, or income.

The dispute was settled by removing eighth grade math from the bill. The final version covers English language arts for kindergarten through eighth grade and math for kindergarten through seventh grade.  State education officials want the State Board of Education to take a redo and adopt a single eighth grade math standard.

The California Department of Education has already started soliciting materials from publishers. Once that’s finished, the final list will go to the State Board for approval. But because these are supplemental materials, local districts aren’t restricted to the State Board’s list the way they are with textbook adoptions. Districts can choose their own materials as long as they cover the standards, or they can choose to do nothing.

Companion bills moving along

Two sister bills still in the legislative process would round out early preparation for the Common Core standards.

AB 250, by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), adds professional development and requires the State Board to adopt new curriculum frameworks and evaluation criteria that are aligned to the Common Core academic content standards. It also keeps the state’s STAR testing system in place for an extra year, when it will be replaced by the new assessments developed for Common Core.

Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) has the third leg of the stool. His bill, AB 124 , requires the state to convene a group of experts in English language instruction to ensure that the curriculum, materials, and assessments for English learners are aligned with the Common Core standards.

The two bills won’t come up for a floor vote until Monday at the earliest.

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.

Slow track for finance reform

AB 18, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley’s major overhaul of education finance, flew through the Assembly with near unanimity (74-2) last month. Passage seemed too easy, and it was. With union opposition and questions about a lack of specificity stirring, Brownley last week pulled the bill from its scheduled hearing in the Senate this week and has made AB 18 a two-year bill, with hearings to come next year.

That shouldn’t be surprising. Brownley, a Santa Monica Democrat who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, continued to describe the bill as a work in progress. It sailed through the Assembly based on its promise: to simplify a convoluted finance system, make funding more equitable, and eventually steer more money to high-needs children. On those points there is general agreement, at least in concept.

In reorganizing many funding streams and categories into three, AB 18 would vastly simplify the current system. But equity is in the mind of the beholder. In promising to hold all districts harmless, AB 18 would initially lock in disparities in legacy funding and idiosyncratic differences in special-purpose funds known as categorical programs. Some districts, for example, get much more adult education funding than others. Los Angeles Unified gets a disproportionately large allocation of Economic Impact Aid for minority children.

Equalization – the process of making similar funding streams more uniform  – was to be put off for another time. But AB 18, to its credit, would spell out the current winners and losers in ways that have not been apparent. Once districts see the differences spelled out, underfunded districts will likely push for dealing with equalization sooner than later.

AB 18, as I have explained before, would divvy up Proposition 98 funding into three large piles of money, based on student enrollment, with special education funding treated separately. Districts would have flexibility over how to spend categorical funds that would be rolled into the three funding areas:

  • Base spending, including the  current revenue limit funding and two dozen categoricals, would be the largest.
  • Quality Instruction Funding, combining the class-size reduction program and eight teacher-training-related  programs, now funded at $1.8 billion, would be spent on professional development and teacher and principal recruitment and retention.
  • Targeted Student Equity Funding would include eight categorical programs, including Economic Impact Aid. It would be aimed directly at low-income students and English learners. Brownley has said the goal of AB 18 would be to make increasing this fund over time a priority. How much hasn’t been decided.

The California Teachers Association had opposed the bill, on the grounds that there should be more time to explore the unpredictable impacts of the bill. That argument won out, in extending the bill to another year. But CTA was also unhappy to see class-size reduction, a categorical program it has championed, folded into Quality Instruction Funding, in which districts could choose not to fund smaller classes. The California School Employees Association, representing bus drivers, will lobby to have the transportation categorical fund pulled out of base spending. And other interest groups will advocate excluding other categorical funds from the mix – defeating the primary purpose of the bill – simplicity – and limiting how much will be available for needy kids.

Other issues

A finance overhaul should also consider questions not as yet covered by the bill:

  • What should be the funding differentials between unified, elementary, and high school districts?
  • Should incentives for consolidation of small districts be included?
  • Should the finance system recognize cost of living differences among regions of the state? (It costs more for teachers to live in San Francisco than Clovis.)
  • How much extra should districts get to educate a disadvantaged student: 10, 20, 25 percent?

Brownley said last week that she would look forward to “continuing our discussions” with education groups. Credit her for taking on an ambitious goal. It won’t get any easier in the second year.

STAR tests may end for youngest

Reading about SB 740, State Senator Loni Hancock’s (D-Oakland) bill to eliminate second grade STAR testing, took me back to my daughter’s initiation into standardized testing. She puked. “She almost made it out the classroom door,” her second-grade teacher told me with a laugh. Since she didn’t have a fever and nothing happened that night, I brought her back to school the next day. Her classmates applauded when she walked in. Was it stress? Perhaps. She’s in college now and says she still dislikes tests.

Hancock shares that aversion. She’s tried twice to pass similar legislation. Both bills died. SB 740 has made it to the Senate floor, where it will be voted on today. (See update below) “The second-grade test is something that has been of concern to her for a long time because of the recommendation of numerous groups that to do an assessment of second graders is not reliable,” said Rebecca Baumann, a legislative aide to the senator.

No high stakes for young children

The National PTA has taken the position that “Standardized multiple-choice tests and school readiness tests should never be used with preschool and early elementary children for any purpose.” The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) developed guidelines urging discretion in testing children 8 and under:

The use of formal standardized testing and norm referenced assessments of young children is limited to situations in which such measures are appropriate and potentially beneficial, such as identifying potential disabilities.

In place of the STAR exam, Hancock’s bill requires the State Department of Education to provide school districts with information on assessments in mathematics and English language arts that classroom teachers can use for purely diagnostic purposes – something that most teachers already do as a matter of course.

Baumann says diagnostic tests are more practical because they can be given several times during a school year to provide teachers with immediate feedback on how each student is doing. STAR test results aren’t released until the school year is over. Plus, diagnostic tests don’t take up as much class time. “It takes six to eight days to administer the [STAR] test,” says Baumann. “The amount of time taken away from instruction at the second grade level is substantial.”

740 is a blunt instrument

Despite its difficult past, the current bill has few opponents on record. The staff analysis lists only EdVoice, a nonprofit organization working for school reform in California. But it’s a vociferous critic. President and CEO Bill Lucia calls it “a blunt instrument approach to taking the second grade out of the API (Academic Performance Index).” Lucia isn’t against having a policy discussion of whether the second-grade test should be included in the API, but says that’s a whole different discussion.

His foremost concern is that waiting until third grade is too late to learn whether students are working below grade level. “We know the consequence of that can be extremely costly,” said Lucia, citing statistics that show a grim path, with students below grade level by the end of third grade being four times more likely to drop out of school, and dropouts being eight times more likely to wind up in prison.

The State Department of Education hasn’t yet taken a position on 740, but State Superintendent Tom Torlakson “is supportive of the concept,” said Erin Gabel, his director for legislative affairs. In fact the Department sponsored a bill by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) that, initially, also eliminated second-grade testing. But Brownley removed that provision from AB 250 in order to get it out of the appropriations committee. The bill passed the Assembly yesterday and is now headed for the Senate.

The main thrust of 250 is to make sure the state is prepared for the Common Core assessments that are set to begin in 2014-15. California has put all curriculum framework, professional development, and instructional materials adoption on hold while waiting for the Common Core standards, but Gabel says that’s poor planning. “It’s imperative that we provide direction and support for classroom instruction. We’re on a tight timeline here.”

Conflicting opinions on NCLB and second grade

EdVoice’s Lucia also argues that Title III of No Child Left Behind requires all English language learners in kindergarten through 12th grade to be tested every year to assess their progress. He says California stands to lose millions in federal funding if second graders are exempt from the STAR test. But Gabel says that’s not so. If it were true, then the state would already be out of compliance because it doesn’t administer the tests in kindergarten and first grade. She said the state has been using the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), which assesses English proficiency, without any pushback from the federal government.

In fact, California is one of just a handful of states that has second graders take the exam. NCLB only requires standardized testing to begin in third grade, so the two panels developing tests for the Common Core standards are also starting with third grade. But just because it’s not mandated, says Lucia, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Without second grade scores, he says, we’ll be losing “data to make better informed decisions on what’s working for kids.”

Update: Turns out that SB 740 passed the Senate last night on a vote of 21 to 13, and was sent to the Assembly

Bill to impose cap on charters

Charter school supporters didn’t have to worry much about severe restrictions on their operations becoming law over the past seven years – not with Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor. But they’re less certain now, with Jerry Brown in the corner office. Even though Brown founded two charter schools in Oakland, to get his budget passed, Brown is leaning heavily on teachers and classified employees unions that are pushing some of the bills that the charter community fears the most.

Near the top of the list is AB 401, which would put a lid on charter growth and immediately impose a moratorium in Los Angeles and other urban districts that have been the most welcoming to charter schools. Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco is the bill’s author; the California Federation of Teachers is the sponsor.

Last year, Ammiano’s  bill was passed by the Assembly only to get bottled up in the Senate. Back again this year, AB 401 is scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday.

The bill would cap the number of authorized charters at 1,450, and limit that number until 2023. (A bill digest says the moratorium would end in 2017; I assume the bill’s language is the official version.)

There are currently 912 charters in operation. But although the cap is 538 schools away, charters have been expanding at a rate of more than 100 per year and show no sign, even in hard times, of slowing down. Charters affiliated with high-performing charter management organizations, like Aspire Public Schools and Rocketship Education, are among those with expansion plans.

But the bill also would limit the number of charters to no more than 10 percent  of the number of schools in a district; those districts that reach that threshold would no longer be able to authorize any more charters, as of July 2012. Jed Wallace, president of California Charter Schools Association, said that the limit already has been reached in San Diego, Oakland, and Los Angeles Unified districts. With 180 charter schools out of about 700 public schools, Los Angeles has the most charter schools of any district in the nation. Not only are charter schools obviously popular with parents, but recently teachers in several Los Angeles Unified schools, El Camino Real High in Woodland Hills the latest, have voted to convert to a charter school. Earlier this month school trustees, in the latest round of their school choice program, selected eight of the 11 applications submitted by charter school associations to run all or part of 13 new or existing low-performing schools. The bill would preempt that process and district policy.

School districts, by law, aren’t allowed to consider financial impact among the criteria in considering an application for charter. However, with school districts and charter schools possibly facing further budget cuts, school districts – and certainly unions – are worried about the loss of student tuitions to new charter schools. But Wallace argues that “the state should be encouraging great schools that are efficiently operated, so there should be a greater emphasis on charters.”

Ammiano’s bill also would ban nepotism in hiring in a charter, prohibiting the hiring of a relative by anyone in a decision-making authority.

Among the more credible bills dealing with charter schools are two that take different approaches to weeding out poor-performing charter schools – which many in the charter community acknowledge is needed.

Disagreements over accountability

Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Julia Brownley has again introduced AB 440. Among its extensive provisions (many dealing with new auditing requirements), the bill would limit charter renewals to three years – instead of the customary five – for those charter schools that find themselves in School Improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Schools that are in the fifth year of School Improvement would be denied a charter renewal.

SB 645, introduced by Sen. Joe Simitian, a Democrat from Palo Alto, would take an approach favored by the California Charter Schools Association. Charter schools up for renewal that fail to meet one of three criteria would have to go before the State Board of Education to justify their charter renewals with additional data. Those criteria are:

  • An API score of at least 700 in the most recent year;
  • A growth of at least 30 points in the API score in the past three years;
  • An API rank in at least the top 60 percent of schools with similar demographics.

The criteria would not apply to new charter schools and to those designated by the state as serving students with a high risk of dropping out. Excluding these schools, the Charter Schools Association says that 43 schools – 8½ percent of charters in operation – would fail the threshold (although only a small number of those would be up for renewal in a given year).

One opponent of both bills is Eric Premack, executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center in Sacramento. School Improvement status is a poor measure of school quality, he says, since most schools in California will end soon end up in School Improvement unless the law is revoked or changed. And he said that the minimum 700 API score and even the 30 point gain over three years will have the effect of encouraging charter schools, especially small schools with fluctuating API scores, to force out troubled and struggling students that many currently serve. There are more effective ways to hold charter schools accountable, according to Premack, who has been hired by school districts to do independent appraisals of charters up for renewal.

Parents: Don’t gut ‘parent trigger’

Five dozen parents from Compton and all corners of Los Angeles drove all night in a packed school bus to deliver their message, in impassioned one-minute speeches in Spanish and English, to the State Board of Education: Don’t undermine the year-old  law giving parents the power to force structural changes in underperforming schools.

“Our children have a right to a university education,” implored one parent. “Failure is not an option.”

“We need your immediate attention,” demanded another. “Move swiftly to add to the mandate of a parent trigger law.”

Board members listened closely, and appeared moved.

“This is urgent,” agreed Yvonne Chan, a charter school principal from Los Angeles.

“Your bus trip was worth it and made an impression today,” said new Board member James Ramos.

“All of the Board is committed to move swiftly and thoughtfully to give you what you need,” said Gregory Jones.

Then, within minutes, high intention ran into Sacramento reality. It became evident in the Board’s discussion that turning aspiration into regulation, urgency notwithstanding, will  not be quick or easy – and will likely be contentious.

If parents came hopeful, they left Sacramento Wednesday uncertain and not a little bit suspicious.

The “parent trigger” law that gives a majority of parents at a school the right to demand a change of leadership or bring in a charter school operator is “difficult,” said new Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson: “vague where it should be specific and specific where it should be flexible.”

The emergency implementation regulations that the State Board adopted last summer provided little guidance and are set to expire next month. Parents at an elementary school in Compton that submitted the first parent trigger petition in December already have filed suit – and have won a preliminary injunction over burdens that the district required for signature verification. Parent groups at middle schools in Carson and Sunland-Tujunga, in northeast Los Angeles, are deep in their own petition drives. Spurred by the organizers of Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution,  parent activists want action now.

But the draft regulations that the State Board worked on for half a year doesn’t address the conflicts that already have surfaced in Compton over tactics and procedures. Groups representing teachers, school boards, administrators, the state PTA, and Public Advocates, which represents low-income families, asked the Board to take more time to get the regulations right.

Torlakson recommended – and the State Board unanimously agreed – to bring representatives of all of the groups, including Parent Revolution, together over the next month to hash out issues and provide direction to the Board.

But his disclosure that the Department of Education would also work with Julia Brownley, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, on a “cleanup bill” to clarify the parent trigger law caught parent organizers by surprise and alarmed them. As an Assemblyman with close ties to the CTA last year, Torlakson led the opposition to the parent trigger law. Brownley proposed a watered-down version of the law.

“We are  certain to see a repeal effort under another name,” said Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution. “I have never heard in all public hearings and conference calls for eight months before now CDE (Department of Education) staff once say, ‘This law is just too hard; we need cleanup legislation.’”  (Go here for a short video interview of Gabe Rose.)

The Department’s position is that it is going to be difficult to craft regulations that hold up in court with the parent trigger as currently written. But Chief Deputy Superintendent Richard Zeiger told me that Torlakson, while offering to work with Brownley, is not leading an effort to rewrite the law. He opposed the parent trigger because of philosophical differences; he questions whether parents should be given the authority to take control of a public asset. But he also saw problems with the law’s language.

Important issues must be addressed,  Zeiger said, naming off a few:

Definitions: Who is a parent? If parents from feeder schools have a say, how do you determine who?

Transparency: How do you set up a process where everyone can participate and make it equitable for all parties (teachers, parents)? How do you ensure there will be an accurate presentation of options? Should there be an officially sanctioned petition title with early disclosure, as with other petition drives?

Signatures: Does it matter if there are paid circulators? Should it be clear who is paying for the petition?

Procedural: Does a petition drive extend beyond one year? How long does it last?

Charter approval: Does a petition drive calling for a conversion charter school initiate a formal charter approval process, as with any new charter?

Parent activists have very different concerns: They want the regulations to protect them from harassment from district officials; they want simple and easy signature verifications; and they want tight deadlines. They know districts will try to drag out the process.

Agreeing that districts have a conflict of interest, newly nominated Board member Carl Cohn, a former superintendent from Long Beach and San Diego, suggested that county offices of education be brought in to oversee the petition and public hearing process. That likely would require a change in the law.

The State Board has a number of difficult decisions: Should it let the emergency regulations expire; replace them with new ones; adopt the draft regulations it inherited, with changes (because of formal review time line, that would take months, regardless); start the regulations process again and watch to see what the Legislature does, if anything?

For a State Board that wants to focus on issues of assessment, governance, finance reform and Common Core standards, the parent trigger issue will be time-consuming and controversial. For Gov. Jerry Brown, who will want a united campaign to pass tax extensions in June, any battle pitting parents against the education establishment would be perilous.