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California State Assembly chambers

In the final hours of the California legislative session, there was lots of drama without passage of bills to mandate a later start to middle and high schools and create a state STEM school in Los Angeles. There was success without drama for bills to end “meal shaming” of children without money for school lunches and to let districts keep more money in their budget reserves. Those were among the important education bills that lawmakers acted on — or put off till next year. What follows are a recap of other bills that EdSource followed.

Late school start: Failed

Legislation intended to ban all public middle and high schools from starting their regular school days before 8:30 a.m. failed in the late hours of the session, but the author vows to try again next year.

Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, authored Senate Bill 328, citing research showing it is difficult for teens to go to sleep early in the evening and get up early in the morning. Sleep deprivation, research shows, can lead to depression, poor grades, dropping out of school, obesity, car accidents, and even suicide.  The law would not apply to so-called “zero” periods, which some schools offer before the regular school day begins.

The bill garnered strong support from the California PTA, California Federation of Teachers, numerous medical schools and several school districts. But it was opposed by the California Teachers Association, California School Boards Association and others who said the state should let school districts decide when to start school based on their communities’ needs.

What happened: The Senate passed SB 328 in May, in a 25-13 vote. The Assembly amended the bill to clarify that it would also apply to charter schools and to urge the state Department of Education to post information on its website about research supporting later school start times for adolescents, but it was defeated in a 26-30 vote on Sept. 14, with 23 members not voting. Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, moved to reconsider the bill, but the Assembly did not act on it Friday, so it could be brought back next year. It remains to be seen whether school districts will jump on the late start bandwagon without a state mandate.

Portantino on Friday told the Los Angeles Times he is “disappointed in the opposition that promoted non-science and unsubstantiated arguments against SB 328, forcing us to move this fight for our children’s health to January.  I’m committed to this issue and I will continue to work to see it become law.”

STEM school: Stalled

A late-session press to establish the first state-created school in science, math and engineering stumbled Friday, the last day of the Legislature’s session, when the co-authors of AB 1217, struggled to find a majority in the Senate and pulled it from consideration.

Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, and co-author Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, will have the rest of the year to regroup. But they’ll need to respond better to school management groups and unions critical not of the concept of a STEM middle and high school in Los Angeles, serving primarily low-income, minority children, but the rationale for bypassing local districts to authorize it.

“We’re supportive of the intent to develop a STEM school with civic leaders and higher education, but they should not have gone directly to the Legislature,” said Edgar Zazueta, senior director of governmental relations and policy for the Association of California School Administrators.

Who “they” are is a mystery. Universities including Cal Tech and UCLA say they’d parnter with it, and philanthropist Eli Broad said he’d fund it. But Bocanegra and Portantino won’t identify the primary organizers. Whoever they are set up a website to promote the idea last week and apparently hired the politically well-connected communications firm Mercury California.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times editorial board endorsed the idea with the headline “A state-sponsored STEM school for L.A.’s poorest kids is a slap in the face to LAUSD — but it’s necessary.” To no avail. Zazueta said the bill would have faced a close vote in the Senate, followed immediately by a tougher reception in the Assembly.

Under the bill, a seven-member nonprofit board, with four members named by the governor and Legislature, would run the school. The state superintendent would monitor it. It would resemble a charter school in many respects — minus supervision of a local district (see previous coverage). That’s a sticking point for opponents.

“We appreciate the authors’ interest in supporting STEM programs and career technical opportunities, but we must insist that the state respect the charter school petition process and allow the local school districts and community to evaluate their educational needs,” said Sara Bachez, assistant executive director of governmental relations for the California Association of School Business Officers.

Ending meal shaming: Passed

Students in California whose families owe money for school lunches will no longer be given only a snack — a cheese stick, an apple and a glass of milk — or nothing at all, until they’re all paid up. They’ll get the same meal as all the other students, under a bill the Legislature passed last week.

With the unanimous passage of SB 250, by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, California will join a movement not to hold children hostage for the debts of their parents. The bill will also end “meal shaming,” the practice used in some districts across the nation of verbally reprimanding students in the lunch line or stamping children’s hands as a reminder to their parents they owe money.

A survey by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supported Hertzberg’s bill, found that many districts didn’t post their policies for students in arrears. Of those that did, several dozen served less than a fully nutritional meal. Torrance Unified, for example, provides “a snack consisting of crackers, a milk and fruit/veggies when a middle or high school student reaches a $0 balance.” The policies only apply to students whose families don’t qualify for federal meal subsidies.

Seeing legislation coming, this year Elk Grove Unified ended its policy of giving kids in debt only a cheese sandwich. Michelle Drake, director of Food and Nutrition Services for the district, told the Sacramento Bee that food service workers encouraged the switch. “It’s just not good for our children and it’s difficult on the staff. The last thing they want to see is a 3rd-grader and 4th-grader with that look on their face. We have changed it up for this school year.”

The bill specifically says that districts are not required indefinitely to give parents a pass on not paying. Instead it requires that districts do all they can to enroll families in the subsidized school lunch program and notify families  — not bill collectors — of unpaid balances as soon as they are 10 days behind.

The state PTA and the California Teachers Association were among organizations backing the bill. There were no registered opponents.

Reserve cap: Deal reached

The fight is over. The California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association have compromised to end a 3-year fight over how much money school districts can keep in reserve for emergencies. It had become a test of wills on an abstruse issue involving intricacies of Proposition 98, the formula that sets annual K-12 revenues.

In 2014, the CTA persuaded Gov. Jerry Brown to include a cap on district reserves, because it suspected that districts, in post-recession caution, were hoarding money that should be spent on students (and teacher pay raises). The cap would take effect, under some conditions, in favorable revenue years, after the Legislature put money for schools in a state reserve. In that case, districts would have to lower their reserves to an average of 6 percent of their General Fund revenue.

School groups, calling it an intrusion on local control, insisted on a full repeal. And they said the limit was too low, potentially jeopardizing solvency — especially for small districts more vulnerable to unforeseen events

The deal: Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, a CTA ally, and Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, on behalf of the school groups, negotiated the compromise in Hill’s SB 751:

  • The cap on districts would take effect the year after the Legislature contributed 3 percent of the General Fund into the state K-12 reserve — currently about $2 billion;
  • All districts with fewer than 2,501 students — half of the districts in the state — would be exempt; so would basic aid districts, those that fund schools through local property taxes;
  • The combined cap on assigned reserves (money designated for specific purposes) and unassigned reserves would be 10 percent of a district’s General Fund.
  • As under the current law, county superintendents could grant districts an exemption in two consecutive years out of three.
  • Districts already had another escape valve: With a vote in public, boards could set aside additional money for a specific purpose in what’s called a defined reserve. SB 751 won’t change that.

The cap has yet to been triggered, and it’s difficult to forecast when, or even if, it will be, but Hill, in a statement, said the new limits will help districts better prepare for the future. “California voters understand the importance of saving for economic downturns — they approved a rainy day fund for the entire state to prevent devastating cuts in the future,” Hill said. “This bill allows school districts to save for fiscal uncertainties and prevent adverse impacts to students and teachers.”

Sanctuary state: Passed

SB 54, by state Senate President pro Tem Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, prohibits local police and other authorities — including those who work at schools — from cooperating with federal immigration agents without a warrant. Immigrants make up 30 percent of California’s population, and half of the state’s children have at least one parent who is foreign-born, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. De León said the bill will bolster trust between immigrant communities and state agencies, and lead to improvements in public safety, school attendance and public health.

Dozens of cities and school districts around California have already declared themselves safe havens or sanctuaries, offering varying degrees of protections for immigrants. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has threatened to withhold grants for so-called sanctuary cities and states, saying they hinder the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. The California State Sheriffs’ Association opposed the bill, saying they can’t afford to lose federal grants and should have the flexibility to cooperate with federal immigration agents in certain situations. Other law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, are supporting the bill. Under pressure from Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill was amended in early September to expand the list of crimes for which local law enforcement would notify federal immigration officials.

What happened: The bill passed the state Senate on April 3 by a vote of 27-12. The Assembly passed the bill on Friday, and Brown said he plans to sign it.

Teacher tenure: Held by author

The probationary period for new teachers in most states is three years or longer. In California, it’s technically two years, though realistically 18 months, since the deadline for notifying teachers in the second year is March 15. AB 1220, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would give districts the option of extending probation to a third year when they believe teachers could benefit from more supervision.

Weber argued districts often dismiss promising teachers rather than grant them the lifetime due-process protections known as tenure. The California Teachers Association responded that a longer probationary period would send a negative message to potential teachers, compounding the state’s teacher shortage. The CTA wants due-process rights for probationary teachers in exchange for another year of probation. See earlier EdSource coverage.

What happened: In July, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, introduced a competing bill, AB 1164,  that also would permit a third probationary year, but contains conditions and restrictions, advocated by the teachers unions, that aren’t in Weber’s bill. It would restore for third-year probationary teachers the right of evidentiary hearings and other due-process requirements, opposed by school districts, that probationary teachers had before the law was changed decades ago. In July, first Weber, then Thurmond, pulled their bills from consideration. The battle over tenure will likely resume next year.

English learner reclassification: Held by the author

Researchers and advocates for English learners agree that determining when English learners are proficient in English, meaning they no longer need language assistance, needs to be uniform — but are fighting over how to do this. SB 463, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would standardize the four current reclassification criteria: performance on the state assessment of English language proficiency; evaluation by teachers; consultation with parents; and the mastery of basic skills, comparable to English-only students, on the Smarter Balanced assessment. Researchers and academicians want results on the new English language fluency test, called ELPAC, to be the primary factor; the test will debut in 2018.

 A 2014 study found that most districts adopt more rigorous, often subjective criteria for determining English proficiency, and a delay in reclassification can deny English learners access to college prep courses. Bill proponents, who include the nonprofit Californians Together, worry that premature reclassification will deny English learners needed supports. They point out that a failure to provide English learners with access to college-qualifying courses is a district failure, not a reclassification issue. See earlier EdSource coverage.

What happened: Unable to resolve the disagreements, Lara pulled the bill and will bring it back next year.

Fiscal transparency: Bottled up

Legislation that started out requiring schools to detail their spending under the Local Control Funding Formula passed the Assembly 77-0 in the spring — a signal that many lawmakers want more transparency on how much money low-income students, English learners and foster youth receive under the formula in each school they attend. But AB 1321 faced strong opposition by teachers unions and school boards and administrators organizations, who argued the funding formula law intentionally distributes money by district, not by school. Gov. Jerry Brown agrees.

Author Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, seeing uncertainty in the Senate, amended her bill, leaving intact a key provision: Starting in 2018-19, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires all schools to report how much revenue they receive annually from federal, state and local sources. Districts’ expenditures must be based on actual teacher salaries, not district averages — a significant change. Weber’s bill would have required state officials to establish uniform reporting criteria so that schools’ revenues could be meaningfully compared.

What happened: This month, the Senate Appropriations Committee decided to hold the bill with no explanation, as it has the power to do, stalling it for the year. That leaves up in the air whether the State Board of Education and the Brown administration on their own will require uniform reporting requirements, said Brad Strong, senior director of education policy for Children Now, a co-sponsor of the bill. Weber may be able to bring the bill up again in 2018.

Charter legislation

For-profit charters, public records: Failed in committee

SB 806, by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, would ban a for-profit entity from engaging in certain charter school activities, including participating in a candidate review or being involved in appointing or selecting members of the nonprofit charter operator’s board of directors. It also would prohibit more than 50 percent of the full-time teachers of a charter school from being employees of a for-profit entity.

This bill also would clarify that the governing body of a charter school is subject to the California Public Records Act.

The bill passed in the Senate Education Committee but failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee; it can be reconsidered next year.

Eliminate charter school appeals: No vote taken

SB 808, by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, would eliminate the current right of operators of proposed charter schools to appeal a denial of their proposal by a local school district to the county office of education or to the State Board of Education. Only the school district within which the charter school would be located would decide.

Testimony was heard but no vote was taken in the Senate Education Committee.

Access to facilities for charters: Died in committee

SB 765, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would require school districts to give charter schools the first right to acquire any excess property or facilities that a district was planning to sell or lease.

It passed the Senate in May but was held in the Assembly Education Committee by Chairman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, in July. No vote was taken.

EdSource writers John Fensterwald, Theresa Harrington, Carolyn Jones and George White contributed to this article. 

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  1. JudiAU 1 month ago1 month ago

    LAUSD runs several schools with a STEM focus and none of them have produced results so of course parents and donors prefer a workaround. You’d think a sense of shame would prevent LAUSD from opposing a school that will likely serve students well.