Preemptive action over protests

The University of California has canceled this week’s Board of Regents meeting, after UC police said they had “credible intelligence” that violent protests could threaten public safety.

Their information indicated “that rogue elements intent on violence and confrontation with UC public safety officers were planning to attach themselves to peaceful demonstrations expected to occur at the meeting,” UC officials said in a written statement released Monday.

The Board’s bimonthly meeting was scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus.

Sherry Lansing, head of the Regents, specifically asked the police if this was just about protests, which have become the norm at Board meetings in recent years, said UC’s Media Relations Director, Steve Montiel. “They assured her that this went beyond that,” he said.

Faced with that warning, Lansing and UC President Mark Yudof decided that allowing the meeting to take place “might constitute a reckless disregard of credible law enforcement intelligence.”

Montiel said he didn’t know if the threats came from some of the outside agitators who have disrupted the Occupy Oakland protests, but UC students said the Regents are overreacting to the Occupy movement and should have been better prepared to deal with this type of situation.

The UC police department “deals with student demonstrations on a regular basis, and their top priority should be ensuring students’ ability to demonstrate safely,” said UC Student Association President Claudia Magana.

The UC Student Association is a part of ReFund California, a statewide coalition of students, teachers, and many of the same people involved in the Occupy movement. Organizers said they expected at least a thousand people at this week’s meeting for a peaceful protest to raise the Occupy mantra that regents should look to the 1% to fund public colleges and universities rather than cutting their budgets and raising tuition.

“By canceling this meeting, the UC Regents have done a great disservice to students and our ability to participate in the governance of our University system,” Magana said.

Cal State faces tuition hike and faculty strike

Trustees of California State University are going ahead with their regular meeting today and tomorrow with extra security. The Board is scheduled to vote on its $2.4 billion 2012-13 budget request, which asks the state to restore $333 million, about half of what was cut this year. Tuition and campus fees make up the remaining $2 billion of CSU’s operating budget.

Students may be picking up even more of those costs. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said he’ll also ask the trustees to approve a 9% tuition hike for the fall of 2012 that would kick in if the state doesn’t approve at least $138 million of the requested budget increase.

“We want to be able to give as much notice to students and parents as possible that if the state doesn’t give us the needed revenue to operate, tuition will go up in the fall of 2012,” said Reed during a telephone call with reporters Monday morning.

Source:  CSU Board of Trustees' Committee on Finance agenda, Nov. 16, 2012.  (Click to enlarge)
Source: CSU Board of Trustees' Committee on Finance agenda, Nov. 16, 2012. (Click to enlarge)

CSU undergraduates were already hit with a 23% hike this year, boosting tuition to $5,472.  Add on campus fees, and costs rise to as much as $7,000.

Then there’s the elephant waiting just outside the room until December, when CSU could lose another $100 million if state revenues don’t increase enough and the Governor pulls the budget trigger. The plan for that, said Reed, is to cover the cuts with the last of their reserves.

So when asked if CSU could find $20 million for faculty raises agreed to in the 2008 contract, Reed answered sharply, “We cut about $15 million out of our budget this year, so the answer is no, we don’t have it.”

That conflict sparked the California Faculty Association’s (CFA) first ever strike at CSU. The union has called for a one-day walkout this Thursday at two campuses – Dominguez Hills in Southern California and East Bay in Northern California.

The argument is over one-quarter of one percent of CSU’s budget, said Kim Geron, Vice President of the CFA, and a political professor at Cal State East Bay. He pointed out that faculty have made concessions, including a 10%  furlough in 2009.

“I think our faculty are fed up,” said Geron. He’s expecting  a large turnout from each of the two schools, and from supporters at other campuses who can catch rides on union chartered buses.

Chancellor Reed, on the other hand, is convinced that most professors will show up for class. “I just have a lot of faith that we are going to accommodate our students,” he said.

But he’s putting on extra security at both campuses just in case.

Governor Brown signs Dream Act

Governor Brown fulfilled a campaign pledge today to extend financial aid to deserving undocumented college students by signing the California Dream Act into law.

AB 131, by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), allows students – whether U.S. citizens from other states or undocumented students – who meet specific criteria to apply for Cal Grants at the University of California and California State University, and for fee waivers at California community colleges.

“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” said Brown in a statement announcing his action Saturday morning. “The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”

AB 131 is part of a two-bill Dream Act package introduced by Cedillo. Brown also signed the other measure, AB 130, which permits undocumented students at UC and CSU to apply for private financial aid administered by the universities, in July.

Cedillo thanked the governor for giving “hope and opportunity to thousands of current and future students and their families,” and said that by signing both bills, Brown “will send a message across the country that California is prepared to lead the country with a positive and productive vision for how we approach challenging issues related to immigration.”

Cedillo has tried five times to enact similar legislation. Four times it was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A fifth measure died in the state Senate.

The new laws apply to students who meet the requirements of AB 540. The 2001 bill, which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, allows any student who attended a California high school for at least three years, graduated or earned a GED, and is in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship to pay in-state tuition rates at California’s public colleges and universities.

An analysis completed for the state senate found that AB 540 students accounted for less than three-tenths of a percent of students at UC, and that 70 percent of them were U.S. citizens or immigrants with legal status.

At CSU, about 3,633 students are classified as AB 540, while community colleges granted AB 540 waivers to a little more than 34,000 students. In both cases that amounts to less than 1 percent of the total enrollment; however, Cal State and community colleges don’t know how many of those students are undocumented and how many are legal immigrants or Californians who left the state for a time after high school and returned years later for college or graduate school.

According to Brown’s office, the California Department of Finance estimates that 2,500 students will qualify for Cal Grants under AB 131, at a cost of $14.5 million. That’s about 1 percent of the total Cal Grants program of $1.4 billion.

Both bills passed the Legislature on almost completely party-line votes. The sole exception was Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), who voted for AB 130.

Opponents say the law will invite further illegal immigration to California, draining resources that aren’t even adequate for legal residents. “Every additional dollar the state spends on illegal immigrants is a dollar it cannot spend on students who are here legally,” wrote Assemblyman Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach) in an Op-Ed in the Orange County Register.

Supporters counter that by allowing undocumented students to earn college degrees, California’s revenue would increase by about $15 million a year.

The California Dream Act takes effect on January 1, 2013.

CALPADS goes to college

California’s student data system has reached another milestone.  By linking the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, known as CALPADS, with two other data systems, state education officials tracked for the first time the number of high school graduates who enrolled in college – in and out of state.

2009 California high school graduates' enrollment in UC, CSU and community colleges.  Source California Postsecondary Education Commission. (Click to enlarge)
2009 California high school graduates' enrollment in UC, CSU and community colleges. Source: California Postsecondary Education Commission. (Click to enlarge)

They found that nearly three-quarters of the 382,514* high school graduates in the class of 2009 enrolled in a college or university.  More than 25,000 went to the University of California, some 44,000 enrolled in California State University, 109,000 went to a California community college, and the rest attended private colleges either in California or in another state.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson hailed the numbers as a step toward gaining a foothold in the new economy.  “In a knowledge-based economy, college and career training are becoming the price of admission to the job market,” said Torlakson in a statement released Thursday.  “So it’s good to see so many California graduates taking the next step on the path to success.”

CALPADS has had a shaky path since it was first approved in 2002.  Most recently, Gov. Brown sought to defund the data system over the summer, but wound up keeping the student system and eliminating the teacher data system, CALTIDES.

The college enrollment statistics were generated by matching student data from CALPADS with two other data systems: the National Student Clearinghouse and the California Postsecondary Education Commission (which has also been decommissioned by Gov. Brown).

“We’re now starting to track this stuff in a systematic way, which is a good thing,” said UC Santa Barbara Education Professor Russ Rumberger, founder of the California Dropout Research Project. “Now we have better and newer information than we’ve had before. Now we can see trends.”

Earlier this week, the Data Quality Campaign held a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress to discuss the need for using data to help students succeed in college.  “That’s the big issue; it’s not getting them in, it’s getting them out,” said Rumberger.  “That’s the whole push in our state today, to get them [high school students] better prepared.”

As we’ve noted in this space many times, college graduation rates, particularly for community colleges, are in dire need of improvement. The six-year graduation rates at

Costs and graduation rates at California state colleges and universities.  Source:  Public Policy Institute of California.  (click to enlarge)
Costs and graduation rates at California state colleges and universities. Source: Public Policy Institute of California. (click to enlarge)

the University of California and Cal State are 80.5 percent and just over 47 percent respectively.  At the state’s community colleges, even after six years, 70 percent of students planning on earning an Associate’s degree or certificate had not completed the work.

*Number from Data Quest

State’s public colleges adrift

When the National Governors Association launched an initiative last year to increase college graduation rates, it offered $30,000 grants to states for developing model programs and policies that could be replicated around the country. California didn’t apply, and researcher Nancy Shulock is pretty sure she knows why.

“There isn’t anybody whose job it is to coordinate the writing and submission of a proposal like that,” said Shulock, director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy (IHELP) at Sacramento State University. “What’s missing here that we see in other states is a governor’s higher education policy office. We need somebody in the executive branch.”

What happened (or, more accurately, didn’t happen) with the grant application is a metaphor for the disarray of higher education policy in California, according to IHELP’s latest report, Dollars and Sense.

Master Plan but no planning

Despite having a Master Plan for higher education, which is considered the gold standard, California doesn’t have a comprehensive, well-thought-out process for financing the University of California, California State University, and community colleges.

“The prevailing distribution of costs and benefits across students, segments, and taxpayers is the result of policy drift rather than of purposeful policymaking,” wrote Shulock

Where California stands on spending for public colleges and universities. Source:  IHELP (click to enlarge)
Where California stands on spending for public colleges and universities. Source: IHELP (click to enlarge)

and her co-authors.

This lack of thoughtful policymaking, “guided by what outcomes are sought from postsecondary education and how resources can best be allocated to achieve them,” will leave California in the vulnerable position of not having enough college graduates to enter the job market and create a healthier economy.

Dollars and Sense uses data from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity, and Accountability to identify trends in fiscal planning focused on five fundamental questions:

  1. Who attends public colleges and universities?
  2. How much do we spend on higher education?
  3. How do we spend it?
  4. Who pays?
  5. What do we get?

Inconsistent and inefficient policies

Spending at UC, CSU and community colleges.  Source:  IHELP (click to enlarge)
Spending at UC, CSU and community colleges. Source: IHELP (click to enlarge)

They found paradoxes and evidence of haphazard planning. State cuts at UC and CSU were among the steepest in the nation, but UC and CSU still spend more per student than comparable state universities. Even though community colleges enroll seven times the number of students as UC – and far more of them are low income – they spend a little over a third as much as UC on instruction, student services, and academic support. Meanwhile, California community colleges are below the national average in spending on each student, but 30% above the national average in the cost for each degree.

To be fair, University of California budget director Michael Clune says IHELP’s financial figures differ from theirs, although whether summer enrollment is counted, methodology and definitions of support activities may account for the difference.

According to UC’s 2011 accountability report, per-student spending has fallen by about 20% since 1990-91.

UC expenditures per student.  Source: University of California. (Click to enlarge)
UC expenditures per student. Source: University of California. (Click to enlarge)

However, even with the decline, UC still spends more per student than most other public university systems.

“We believe this is key to our position as the world’s best public university system and more important, to California’s culture of innovation and forward thinking,” wrote UC spokesperson Dianne Klein in an email. But she went on to note that some of UC’s cost-saving measures, such as increasing the student/faculty ratios, reducing the number of tenure-track professors, and cutting classes and course sections, have eroded quality.

Shulock isn’t playing “gotcha” with Dollars and Sense, but she does want to shake up the status quo. For example, one recommendation is to make higher education more cost effective by turning some UC campuses into selective undergraduate schools without graduate and professional degrees and the expensive research programs that go along with those.

Another idea is to raise tuition at community colleges, do away with fee waivers, and have financial aid programs like UC and CSU. Student fees are the lowest in the nation and could be hiked without losing that distinction.

But none of that will even come up for discussion unless university officials, legislators, and especially Gov. Brown start paying attention to higher education.

“I feel sad when I read about other states that have much more engaged policymakers, starting at the governor’s office,” said Shulock. “Nobody is looking at this and saying, ‘What can we do?’ If we had more engaged leaders looking at some of these cost-cutting issues we might be able to get better outcomes.”

Gov. Brown signs Dream Act – Part 1

Gov. Jerry Brown ended a veto streak by his predecessor, signing a bill to let undocumented college students apply for private scholarships at state colleges and  universities. AB 130 is one of a two-bill set by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) that makes college more affordable for students brought to the country illegally by their parents.

During a signing ceremony (watch the video here) Monday in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library at Los Angeles City College, Cedillo praised Gov. Brown for being a man of his word and for his courageous leadership on this issue.  The Governor had made signing a state Dream Act one of his campaign promises during a debate with rival Meg Whitman.

Assemblyman Gil Cedillo at signing of his bill AB 130, part of the California Dream Act (photo from Assembly Access video)
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo at signing of his bill AB 130, part of the California Dream Act (photo from Assembly Access video)

“By being here today you are giving testament to the importance of education and the value of hard work, dedication and academic excellence regardless of immigration status,” Cedillo said to the Governor.

The second part of the Dream Act, AB 131, faces a tougher road because it would open the state-funded Cal Grants program to the students.  That bill is currently on hold in the state senate and won’t be acted on until the legislature returns from summer break in a couple of weeks. Gov. Brown has not said whether he’ll sign it if it should pas, but has indicated that he supports the principles behind the act.

Governor calls AB 130 an “investment in people”

In his remarks, Brown continued the theme of making higher education accessible, noting that half of all babies born in California are born into very low income families, and investing in their education is an investment in the state’s economic viability.

Gov. Brown signs Dream Act on back on its author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (photo from Assembly Access video)
Gov. Brown signs Dream Act on back on its author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (photo from Assembly Access video)

“This is one piece of a very important mosaic, which is a California that works for everyone, and a California who understands where our strength is,” and that’s not just in having extra money for entertainment said the Governor.  “It’s also being able to go to a Community college or a state college and being able to afford it.”

Then in an impromptu lighthearted moment, the Governor placed the bill on Cedillo’s back and signed it so everyone in the room could get a view of the historic event.  AB 130 takes effect on January 1, 2010.

Critics warn that the law invites further illegal immigration to California, draining resources that aren’t even adequate for legal residents.  “Every additional dollar the state spends on illegal immigrants is a dollar it cannot spend on students who are here legally,” wrote Assemblyman Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach) in an Op-Ed in the Orange County Register. “Such an action will only act as another magnet to encourage more illegal immigration because of all the generous taxpayer-funded benefits that California offers.”

The new law and its sister bill pertain to a specific group of undocumented students; those who meet the requirements for instate tuition through AB 540.   The 2001 bill, which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, lets any student who attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated or earned a GED in California, pay resident tuition rates at the University of California, California State University and California community colleges.

Federal DREAM Act remains in doubt

Although it didn’t overshadow Monday’s ceremony, uncertainty over the federal DREAM Act wasn’t far from thought.  In a jab directed at Congress and President Obama, Cedillo urged Washington to make the federal DREAM Act a bigger priority.

“We hope and pray and we wait for immigration reform to come from Washington, and we hope and pray for leadership to come from the White House,” said Cedillo.

The federal legislation differs significantly from Cedillo’s bills by creating a path to citizenship for some undocumented students, something only Congress can do. The most recent version was defeated during the lame-duck session just after last November’s election that swept the GOP into the House leadership.

Ten years after if was first introduced in Congress, supporters are showing no signs of backing down.  Senator Dick Durban (D-Illinois) and Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) reintroduced the DREAM Act this past May as S. 952 and H.R. 1842.  The official title is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011.

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.

Bigger cuts to higher ed

With Republicans sitting on their hands, Democrats in the Legislature cobbled together a “balanced” state budget Wednesday that will give K-12 schools about $50.4 billion, roughly the same amount of money as last year, while cutting an additional $150 million each from the University of California and California State University. However, K-12 schools and community colleges will have to absorb $3 billion in deferrals (all but $129 million in K-12) for the 2011-12 school year, which Gov. Brown had hoped to eliminate with extensions of the tax increases.

At least on paper, Democrats managed to close a $9.6 billion gap between spending and revenue without suspending Proposition 98, which sets the state’s obligation to K-12 schools and community colleges. The Democrats’ bill contains a combination of upbeat revenue assumptions and legally tenuous fees and taxes. It makes up for the $8 billion or so in temporary tax extensions that the governor had sought by increasing vehicle registration fees by about $12 per vehicle, raising the sales tax by a quarter percent, eliminating redevelopment agencies (while creating another avenue for redevelopment funding), transitioning children in the state’s Healthy Families Program to Medi-Cal, and reviving the proposal to sell some state buildings.

Could be worse, but still uncertain future

“The budget is much better than it could be,” said Molly McGee Hewitt, executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO). Nevertheless, she said her organization is advising districts not to act hastily to restore programs and rehire teachers. “We believe there is uncertainty about how various pieces of the budget are going to hold together, said McGee Hewitt, “There’s no guarantee that there wouldn’t be mid-year cuts.”

That caution is shared by Dave Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education, who said districts should continue to act as if they’re still going to lose an additional $350 per student, even though the budget approved Wednesday makes it seem like there could be no further cuts. “If you haven’t continued to reserve the $350 per student then you’re pretty much sunk, because you can’t lay off teachers mid-year,” said Gordon.

Part of their concern is the likelihood of lawsuits over several components of the budget. Several county First 5 commissions have already filed suit to stop the state from transferring $1 billion from the early childhood education program to Medi-Cal, and as California Watch reports, other counties, including Los Angeles, say they’ll follow.

Another big worry is that the $2.87 billion deferral will require many districts to borrow money in order to keep paying bills until they receive those funds the following year. The cost of borrowing for districts with negative or qualified financial status may push some over the edge to bankruptcy. “The thing that will kill them in the long run is that they’ll never repay the loan,” said Gordon.

Those landmines prompted Robert Miyashiro, vice president of School Services of California, to conclude that “this is not better than other bad budgets under Gov. Schwarzenegger. This is a way a for the Legislature to say, ‘We did our job by the constitutional deadline and should get paid.’ ” (Had lawmakers failed to reach a budget accord by midnight, the voter-approved initiative Proposition 25 would have kicked in and blocked them from getting paid.)

No sigh of relief for higher education

Leaders of the state’s three public college and university systems went well beyond cynicism in their criticism of the spending plan. University of California President Mark Yudof and Board of Regents Chairman Russell Gould issued a joint statement Wednesday afternoon calling the budget “unacceptable for our state’s public universities,” and said that all Californians should find it unacceptable. They pledged to fight it. “We oppose its implementation, and will marshal the voice of the people throughout the state to urge that Governor Brown restore our funds,” they wrote, adding, “We cannot let this plan stand.”

California State University Chancellor Charles Reed said the additional $150 million in reductions on top of the $500 million already cut is “not a viable option if we are to maintain student access to quality programs, courses, and services.”

Both UC and CSU warned that they’ll be forced to raise student fees even higher; in UC’s case Yudof and Gould said it could be a “double-digit tuition increase on top of the 8 percent hike already approved for next year.”

Jack Scott, chancellor of California’s Community College System, perhaps by dint of having been a legislator himself, was more sympathetic to the Democrats’ situation, noting that without Republican support for extending the temporary taxes they had no other choice. Scott said that the new deferral brings the total rolled-over revenue to $961 million on top of $400 million in cuts. The system is already raising fees next year from $26 per unit to $36 per unit and will be reducing its course offerings by 5 percent.

Last year 140,000 potential students were turned away from community colleges because they couldn’t get into the classes they needed. Next year Scott expects that to climb to 200,000.

“We’re obviously saddened over the fact that some students will be denied the higher education they want,” said Scott. “The refusal to raise taxes just simply leaves us with no other option.” He finds it especially shortsighted in light of the economic crisis, noting all the evidence that college graduates earn more and therefore contribute more to the state’s economy.

It’s unclear what Gov. Brown will do with the budget. His office hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the bill or not. It could be a test of his campaign promise not to accept a budget with gimmicks. If he hopes to use the bill as a bargaining tool with Republicans over their desire for permanent spending limits and pension reform, the governor could risk losing Democrats’ support. He has 12 days to act.

Grad rates trending up – or down

If California’s graduation and dropout rates were a pair of jeans, they’d have an “irregular” sticker on them. Sure, social science research has a reputation for squishy results, but it’s still a bit jarring when a renowned researcher describes certain data as “bogus.” Although he said it with an ironic laugh, that was the first word that popped into Russell Rumberger’s mind when I asked him about the California high school graduation rates in “Diplomas Count,” an annual report from Education Week.

Rumberger is an education professor in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara, where he founded the California Dropout Research Project and has been conducting research on school dropouts for 25 years. His new book on the subject, Dropping out: Why students drop out of high school and what can be done about it, is due out later this year.

A sharp dip followed by a sharper rise

Where California stands nationwide in graduation rates according to Diplomas Count (click to enlarge)
Where California stands nationwide in graduation rates according to Diplomas Count (click to enlarge)

The statistics in question are in the California supplement of the report (available for purchase from EdWeek here), showing changes in graduation rates between 1998 and 2008. For much of the time they’re fairly stable, from a few tenths of a point to a little over one percent from year to year. Over the course of the decade, California’s graduation rate increased from 67.5 percent to 73 percent, staying close to the national average. But in between there’s a dramatic shakeup and recovery.

It started in 2005, when the state’s graduation rate was 70.1 percent. Within two years, by 2007, it had fallen to 62.7 percent, the sharpest decline in the ten-year period. A year later, in 2008, it surged back up by more than ten points to 73 percent. “Pretty wild,” said Rumberger. “The bottom line is all these numbers are estimates, and estimates have errors.”

California runs its own numbers, and they’re quite different. Actually, California runs two sets of numbers,

Diploma Counts shows a sharp drop in Calif graduation rate not seen in other analyses (Click to enlarge. Courtesy Bob Nichols, SVEF)
Diploma Counts shows a sharp drop in Calif graduation rate not seen in other analyses (Click to enlarge. Courtesy Bob Nichols, SVEF)

but more on that in a moment. The official statistics that the state sends to the U.S. Department of Education, for No Child Left Behind reporting, show a downward trend between 1998 and 2008, falling from a high of 87 percent to about 80 percent. But even at their lowest point, those graduation rates are still higher across the board than EdWeek’s figures.

And just to complicate it a little more, that second set of numbers that California prepares has graduation rates heading up after a 2006 downturn, but coming in lower than EdWeek. So we have three sets of calculations, all using data from the same source, obtaining different results and different trends.

It’s all in the formula

It’s no better nationally. Rumberger recently served on a committee of the National Research Council and National Academy of Education that examined the various measurements that states use to determine their graduation and dropout rates. The committee found “widespread disagreement” about the best measurements and their uses. Looking at the year 2005, the committee found three different school completion rates published by the U.S. Department of Education, Editorial Projects in Education (a project of EdWeek), and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Some researchers suspect the problem is with the way the rates are calculated and not with the numbers used to make those calculations.

In its final report, the panel found most formulas to be flawed and occasionally skewed by politics. “At a time when policy makers are vitally interested in tracking the incidence of dropping out of school, they are faced with choosing among substantially discrepant estimates that would lead them to different conclusions regarding both the size of the drop out problem and how it has changed in recent years,” they wrote.

The most common calculations are aggregate counts, the cumulative promotion index (CPI), and cohorts. Aggregate is the simplest and bluntest, comparing the number of graduates to the number of ninth graders four years earlier. The CPI is based on how many students progress from grade 9 to 10, 10 to 11, 11 to 12, and then ultimately graduate. Karl Scheff, with the California Department of Education, says CPI is better than aggregate but still doesn’t get at what happens to individual students. That’s the true cohort measure and it’s the brass ring of data.

Calling on CALPADS

California has been collecting this data for five years, ever since assigning individual student identifiers as part of the CALPADS student data system.  Up until now, even though districts have been sending in student-level data, the state has still been aggregating it.  “We just added them up and plugged them into the traditional calculation,” said Scheff.  This year should be the first time they have a full cohort of students from grade 9 through graduation, but now funding for CALPADS is up in the air.

Gov. Brown proposed cutting the budget for CALPADS in his May revise.  Both the Assembly and Senate have restored the money but Scheff says it’s not clear whether the Governor will veto it.  With CALPADS, state officials will have a robust data source that can track students who move out of

"The actual rate is somewhere in the middle," says Russell Rumberger of the California Dropout Research Project (click to enlarge)
"The actual rate is somewhere in the middle," says Russell Rumberger of the California Dropout Research Project (click to enlarge)

state, transfer to a private school, or spend a fifth year in high school in order to provide a much more precise look at graduation and dropout rates.

Until then, we’ll have to sort through two, three or four reports each with its own interpretation of the data.  Rumberger tries to be as precise as possible when giving presentations.  “I’ll show the two state rates,” he said, “and what I tell people is the actual rate is somewhere in the middle.”

Additional Resources:

A More Accurate Measure of California’s Dropout Rate, June 2010, California Dropout Research Project.

Independent Evaluation of the California High School Exit Examination: 2010 Evaluation Report, Volume 1, Oct. 2010, Human Resources Research Organization

Public School Graduates and Dropouts From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2008-2009, National Center for Education Statistics

In-state fees for the undocumented

When David and Carlos walk at UCLA’s graduation this Friday, they’ll be thanking their parents, their professors, and AB 540 – the 2001 law that lets some undocumented students pay in-state fees at California’s public colleges. On Monday, more than five years after the first lob in a legal challenge to the California law, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the final two words upholding AB 540: Petition Denied. With that, the high court refused to hear an appeal of last November’s California Supreme Court ruling in support of the law.

“If it wasn’t for AB 540 I would not have had an education,” said Carlos, whose parents brought the family to California from Mexico City when he was 14 years old. David agrees. He arrived from South Korea at the age of nine. “I think the [U.S.] Supreme Court is realizing that we’re just students who want access to higher education and that education is a right for all students regardless of their immigration status.”

It may seem a bit confounding that two generally conservative benches the U.S and California Supreme Courts – both upheld a law giving a financial break to students here illegally. “It’s hard to read anything into it,” said Ethan Schulman, a lawyer for the University of California. But since the State Supreme Court ruling was so well reasoned and was a unanimous decision, Schulman expected this decision. “No, we weren’t surprised,” he said, “but obviously we’re very pleased.”

“Illegal alien tuition Scheme”

Opponents charged that AB 540 was nothing more than an end-run around federal immigration law, which prohibits states from providing any benefits to “an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States” unless the same benefit is given to all U.S. citizens. They called it an “illegal alien tuition scheme.”

The state Supreme Court rejected that argument, noting that the exemption is available to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria. That would include a student from another state who attended a boarding school in California, or someone who left the state after high school to work or enlist in the military for several years and later returned to California for college.

“Because the exemption is given to all who have attended high school in California for at least three years (and meet the other requirements),” wrote the state court, “we conclude the exemption is not based on residence in California. Rather, it is based on other criteria.”

Cost versus benefit

Another key argument against AB 540, especially during these difficult budget times, is the cost. Out-of-state students attending the University of California pay nearly $23,000 a year on top of the regular fees of about $11,300 a year. At California State University, residents pay about $4230 a year, while out-of-state students pay an additional $372 for each credit.

But UC and CSU officials say most AB 540 students are U.S. citizens. Of nearly 1,600 students granted tuition exemptions at UC, more than 1,000 are U.S. citizens, according to the University’s annual report on AB 540 exemptions. Almost every one of the 425 graduate students under AB 540 is a citizen.

David will be one of the few undocumented graduate students when he begins his master’s program in the fall. Carlos earns his MSW later this week. Even though it took him several years longer to get through college, Carlos considers himself one of the lucky ones because he was in tenth grade when he came to California. Just a year later and he would have missed one of the eligibility requirements of AB 540: spending at least three years in a California high school. He recently got married and hopes to be on the path to citizenship very soon so he can start work. “My education was a good investment by California taxpayers,” said Carlos. “I’ll be able to put it to use very soon.”

Eleven other states have similar laws – Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin – and Connecticut is expected to join them shortly. But, like California, some of them face challenges. Maryland’s governor just signed the state’s bill last month and it’s already facing a petition drive to block it from taking effect, and the Nebraska and Texas laws have been challenged in court.

UC attorney Schulman says those cases may be helped by Monday’s decision. “Although the California Supreme Court decision is not binding on those courts, I think it’s possible they’ll look to it for guidance.”

Holding a line, almost, on higher ed

California’s public colleges and universities were spared their worst-case scenario fears in Monday’s May revise, but it’s not exactly a cause for celebration. Gov. Brown didn’t add money to higher education, but thanks to the $6.6 billion in unexpected revenues, he managed to keep from cutting any more than what was approved in March. For the University of California and California State University that’s a hit of $500 million each. The community college system gets away with a paltry $400 million decrease.

Scorched earth

It could have been worse. In fact, it still could get worse. The no-additional-cuts budget for higher education remains contingent on extending at least some of the tax increases that GOP legislators in Sacramento have so far refused to put before voters. Without that money, cuts would double to $1 billion apiece. So UC President Mark Yudof and CSU Chancellor Charles Reed responded to the May revise with calculated warnings that appeared directed at Sacramento.

“A cut of this magnitude would be unconscionable – to the university, its students and families, and to the state that it has served for nearly a century and a half,” said Yudof in a statement on UC’s website. “This is not the first round of cuts we’ve faced in the ongoing fiscal crisis. We have been engaged in a three-year exercise in coping with wholesale cutbacks, and by now the magic bullets all have been spent.” Yudof said additional reductions would almost certainly mean another tuition hike. That’s on top of the 8% approved last November, and 32% the previous year.

Cal State Chancellor Reed was more graphic in his written comments, comparing a possible billion dollar cut to a tactic used in warfare. “That would be a scorched earth budget and would inflict lasting damages to the university,” said Reed. “There will undoubtedly be severe and painful choices that we would have to make to address such a massive funding reduction.” He, too, warned of more hikes, suggesting they could jump by another 32 percent unless the tax increases are continued.

An accounting trick

California’s community colleges averted a tripling of their $400 million in cuts and a nearly threefold increase in student fees. Yesterday’s budget plan pushes fees from $26 per unit to $36, still the lowest in the nation, and considerably less than the $66 per unit recommended by the State Legislative Analyst. The fee hike will bring in an additional $110 million, which will offset part of the $400 million reduction, bringing the total cut to $290 million. But it’s not enough to prevent course retrenchment at the 112 campuses. “I don’t know of any college that is not reducing its course schedule for 2011-12,”  said Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California.

Lay was also critical of what appears to be a little something extra in the budget for community colleges. The increased revenue boosts the Proposition 98 pot by about $3 billion. Gov. Brown proposed using the $350 million share that goes to community colleges to start paying down $961 million in deferrals that the system has amassed in the past decade. But part of that is a $129 million deferral that was approved in March but hasn’t taken effect. Lay called it an “accounting trick,” and said it doesn’t affect them programmatically. He’d prefer it if they could use the money to protect faculty, staff, and courses. “We believe that would be a smarter approach to preserve jobs and open up classes for 48,000 students.”

Farewell to CPEC

Another higher ed victim of the budget cuts isn’t a college or university. As part of his proposal to reduce state government, Gov. Brown has identified 43 state boards, commissions, and departments for elimination. Among them is the California Postsecondary Education Commission. Speaking as a reporter, CPEC has been a valuable source of data on everything from enrollment to student transfer statistics. Its primary mission has been policy analyses and recommendations to the governor and legislature regarding policy and funding for state colleges and universities. Shuttering it “would have little programmatic impact,” according to the budget narrative, “as the functions it performs are either advisory in nature or can be performed by other agencies.” The move will save $927,000 next year. (An earlier version misstated this amount.)