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.

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.”

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.

Deal on charter regulation

Charter schools will have to follow state public records, open meeting, and conflict of interest laws. They will also have to make higher academic gains on standardized tests and serve proportionally the same numbers of special education and low-income students as in the surrounding neighborhood or school district to have their charters renewed.

These are among requirements in a trio of bills that mark a meeting of the minds, after long negotiations, between a leading legislator and the primary organization representing charter schools. In a year in which charter advocates have been swatting back a slew of anti-charter legislation, the compromises on the three bills – AB 360, AB 440 and SB 645 – and their likely passage are a notable accomplishment that will serve the long-term interests of the charter movement, according to Jed Wallace, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

For Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, the agreement will assure that her effort to put charter schools under stricter scrutiny will finally be signed into law. During the past two years, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar accountability bills that she sponsored.

The difference this time is that Brownley agreed to carve out several exceptions to conflict of interest laws that would otherwise limit the role of teachers to sit on boards of charters they founded and of board members to financially support nonprofit charters.

“We need clear and unambiguous  conflict of interest standards,” Wallace said, adding that charters will willingly accept more accountability as long as there is flexibility out of recognition that charters are distinctly different in key ways.

But another charter leader, Eric Premack, executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center in Sacramento, is opposing all three bills, especially the new academic and demographic criteria for charter renewals. He suspects that anti-charter school districts and unions will use them as excuses to revoke charters.

Here’s a summary of the bills and why they’re significant:

AB 440 (Brownley): Serve all students

Its main purpose is to establish a separate auditing guide for charter schools, which the state controller would oversee. Its most controversial section – perhaps the most contentious of the three bills – is an attempt to require charters up for renewal to show that they have served the same proportion of low-income students, special-needs students, and English learners that are either in the district, neighborhood, or target population that the charter pledged to serve. The current law is not as specific.

The section is intended to address “creaming,” the charge that some charter schools market to higher-skilled students or force out low-achieving students. There may be explanations why charters’ students may not match district demographics, despite a credible outreach program. However, the proposed bill permits but doesn’t require a chartering district to consider mitigating factors, such as vagaries of the student lottery.

Premack, who often defends charters against antagonistic authorizing districts, says, “This opens up a new front for districts to chew up charters on renewal and does it in the area of pupil selectivity.”

But Wallace, looking at the growth of charters in California, says charters “must be eager to serve all students. We want to put the issue behind us.” At the same time, the Association is not naïve and will take action against districts that use minute or explainable demographic differences to revoke charters, he said.

SB 645 (Simitian): Academic minimums

The Charter Schools Association has been campaigning to raise academic standards of charters, in response to criticism that low-performing charters are setting back the charter movement. Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat, sponsored the Association’s bill and Brownley agreed to the basics, demanding only one substantial change and incorporating the basic bill into her own, AB 440.

Under the bill, a charter school will not be renewed unless it meets at least one of the following three criteria:

  • A 700 API score in the most recent year;
  • API growth of at least 50 points over the previous three years;
  • An API rank of between the sixth and 10th decile in the rankings of schools with similar student demographics in the previous year or last two or three years.

All of these criteria are significantly stricter than under current law, and could ensnare between 10 and a dozen charter schools – or about three to five each year – according to the Association’s estimates. Still, that would represent only about 2-3 percent of all charters. Charters serving students at risk would be exempted.

Those low-performing schools that would lose their charters could provide other academic performance evidence on appeal to the State Board of Education.

Brownley added one condition: Schools in the fifth or subsequent year of sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law would not have their charters renewed unless they met two of the three criteria. Those schools too could make their case to the State Board on appeal. Wallace estimated this would affect one or two schools per year, at most.

SB 645 also includes a long-sought goal of the Association. State rental assistance for charters serving low-income students would rise $50, from $750 to $800 per student, and the threshold for qualifying schools would expand as well.

Premack called SB 645 “the wrong fix to a misidentified problem.” (Click here for his webinar on the issue.) He said it would create perverse incentives to shun serving low-performing students and would “discourage depth and critical thinking in favor or fact-based and standards-based instruction” – a common complaint by district schools as well.

Update: Despite Brownley’s entreaty, the bill failed to get majority support of  the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday. Late last night, the bill picked up the crucial sixth vote, when Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo switched from not voting to support; the bill will now move on to the Appropriations Committee. Democratic Assemblymembers She and Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco and Joan Buchanan of Alamo said they opposed the provision allowing charters that failed to make the minimum academic criteria to appeal an automatic revocation to the State Board of Education. The Board could consider factors other than API scores, such as graduation and attendance rates indicating progress. Simitian told the committee that some local school board members would just as soon have the State Board make the tough decision over revocation, but Ammiano and Buchanan said that revocation should be left to local school boards. That is also the view of the California School Boards Assn. It’s unclear whether the bill can be amended to satisfy opponents; the California Charter Schools Assn. will likely oppose cutting the State Board out of the loop. Simitian indicated he would consider an amendment  to incorporate local boards’ recommendations on charter renewal as part of the record of information that the State Board would consider in making its decision.

AB 360 (Brownley): Comply with state laws

Many charter schools already follow the spirit, if not the letter, of the Brown Act, governing access to public meetings, and the complex Public Records Act, although lawyers have disagreed whether they had to. The bill “will codify what has been practiced,” Wallace said, and force others to comply. It will also require compliance with the Political Reform Act (although charters will be able to write their own conflict of interest code) and the state law, known as Section 1090, that bans someone from being on the governing board of an organization in which the person has a financial stake. But small charters often have founding teachers on their boards, and count on wealthy board members for financial help when in trouble; Los Angeles former mayor Richard Riordan’s bailing out ICEF Public Schools is an example. So the bill will now permit involvement in a few instances, including leasing out a facility owned by a board member. (The board would have to prove that it was the best deal around, and the board member would have to recuse himself.)

Section 1090 is a complicated law, and Premack said he expects unions and districts to cite it to hassle charters – but Wallace said the Association’s legal fund would be at the ready to prevent this. “To become a truly transformational reform movement,”  he said, “people need assurance that charters will be open and accountable public schools.”

Brownley, in a statement, said of the package of bills, “Our agreement contains important protections for students and the public while preserving charter schools’ autonomy as an alternative to traditional public schools.”

Governor squelches finance reform

In vetoing AB 8, which would have taken the first step to overhauling the irrational way the state funds K-12 education, Gov. Schwarzenegger once again gave the back of his hand to recommendations of his Eduction Excellence Committee.

If  the blog had been up last month, I would have ranted about this then.  The Educated Guess is still fuming, so let me vent.

It’s not often that by near-unanimity, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature agree on a potentially significant education reform.

That happened with the passage (79-0 in the Assembly, 31-6 in the Senate) of AB 8, which would have taken the first small but important step toward rethinking how the state funds K-12 schools.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, with water, levies and dams on the brain , vetoed it hours before the signing deadline for legislation.

He did so with a puzzling and dismissive veto message.

He did so even though AB 8 was in line with the recommendations of his own Advisory Committee on Education Excellence.

He did so even though the Hewlett Foundation* had offered to pick  up the costs of the study that the bill created. Continue reading “Governor squelches finance reform”