Assemblymember Joan Buchanan, a Democrat from Contra Costa County who served on the board of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District for nearly two decades, will run the Assembly Education Committee, as of tomorrow. Assuming she wins reelection to a third term in November, she’ll chair the committee when the Legislature returns in January.
Buchanan will replace Julia Brownley, a Santa Monica Democrat who’s in a tight race for Congress. Assembly Speaker John Pérez announced changes in Assemby leadership and committee chairs yesterday.
A Democrat from Alamo with business experience, elected in a swing district, Buchanan has parted with her party on some business issues and has backed changes in public pensions opposed by organized labor. At the same time, she opposed SB 1530, which would have made it easier to fire teachers accused of serious misconduct. (She explained her position on SB 1530 in this statement.) This year she authored AB 1772, which would mandate kindergarten, now optional for parents; since it would establish a new state mandate, it’s unlikely to pass. One bill that did pass, two years ago, set in motion a quality rating scale for preschools that put the state in position for a federal $50 million early childhood Race to the Top grant.
Asked about her priorities as chair, Buchanan responded in an email, “I do not have a predetermined agenda. I plan to do all I can to ensure that every child in California receives a high quality education. Given our current funding challenges, it will be important to bring the entire education community together and seek consensus.
“I currently hold regular ‘classroom cabinet’ meetings with each school district in my Assembly district and the message I receive from them is that they are struggling to keep up with current demands on their districts and do not need additional rules and regulations placed upon them. Therefore, I strongly believe that any new legislation we enact must bring meaningful change and improve student learning.”
Buchanan’s appointment could signal that the Assembly could move cautiously on Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for a weighted student formula funneling new dollars to districts with high percentages of low-income students and English learners. Buchanan’s generally prosperous districts would have not have benefited, and Buchanan was critical of the timing and specifics of the governor’s plan. If, as expected, legislative leaders insist that Brown send his next iteration as a bill, not as part of his budget, the plan would go through the Senate and Assembly Education Committees. Brownley was a strong proponent of weighted student funding and had hoped that her bill, AB 18, would have been the vehicle for it. The latest version would create a task force to look into it and other forms of finance reform.
Redistricting has pushed Buchanan into a slightly more Democratic 16th Assembly District, including Lamorinda and Dublin, Contra Costa County communities familiar with her work as a school board leader. She handily won the primary election.