Education update: Votes coming on teacher tenure, for-profit charters, other key bills

School educationBetween now and July 21, when they take a month off, state legislators will have to decide the fate of bills that passed one chamber of the Legislature and await action in the other. Among those are key education bills that would lengthen teacher probation periods, require more accounting for spending under the Local Control Funding Formula, mandate a later start time for middle and high schools and further restrict student suspensions. What follows is a summary of the bills EdSource is following.

Funding formula transparency

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires that school districts provide data on state and federal spending by school in more detail than before. AB 1321, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would go further, requiring a school-by-school breakdown of state spending by the Local Control Funding Formula’s component parts: base, supplemental and concentration funding. The latter two components are allocated to a district based on the proportion of English learners and low-income, homeless and foster children enrolled.

Why it’s important: Weber and student advocacy groups argue the public needs to know if schools with large proportions of high-needs students are getting money intended to go to them. In some districts, that’s clear. In most, it is not. Gov. Jerry Brown and school management groups counter that detailing every dollar spent would add accounting expenses without much benefit — and divert focus from the funding formula’s overriding goal of figuring out how to improve outcomes for underserved students. They argue that it’s premature to change the funding law.

Status: The bill passed the Assembly unanimously. Brown is expected to fight the bill as it moves through the Senate — and may veto it.

Teacher tenure

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 a third year in instances in which they believe teachers could benefit from more supervision.

Why it’s important: Weber and sponsoring groups argue that districts often let go promising teachers go rather than grant them lifetime due-process protections known as tenure. Districts would make wiser hiring decisions with more time, they say. The California Teachers Association responds 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.

Status: The Assembly Appropriations Committee weakened provisions of the bill; Weber must decide whether to add them back in the Senate. Senate Education Committee will hear the bill July 12.

Teacher shortage

The 2017-18 state budget includes $30 million to alleviate the state’s teacher shortage. Authors of two key proposals that were not funded are moving forward to establish the programs through two bills, in hopes that it will be easier to fund them once they become law. AB 12171, by Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando, would create the California Teacher Corps, a teacher residency program in which new teachers would work under a mentor teacher and receive a stipend in exchange for working at least four years in a high-need field, such as special education. AB 169, by Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would establish Golden State Teacher Grants, which would provide $20,000 stipends to new teachers who also agree to teach four years in a field facing a shortage.

Why it’s important: California is facing a teacher shortage in high-cost regions, like the Bay Area, and in specific fields, including science, math, special education and bilingual programs. The shortage is worse in urban schools serving low-income students.

Status: Both bills received overwhelming support in the Assembly. AB 1217 passed the Senate Education Committee on June 28; AB 169 awaits a hearing.

Suspensions for willful defiance

This fall, California will begin evaluating schools on their progress in lowering student suspension rates. SB 607, by Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, renews a law due to sunset on July 1, 2018 that removed “willful defiance,” a term with no specific definition, as a justification for suspending students in kindergarten through 3rd grade or for expelling students in kindergarten through high school. Skinner’s law extends the ban to kindergarten through 5th grade and proposes a temporary ban, through July 1, 2023, on willful defiance suspensions in 6th through 12th grades.

Why it’s important: Willful defiance suspensions accounted for more than 50 percent of all suspensions before the current law was passed. Advocates of alternative approaches note that suspensions for willful defiance, which rely on a school official’s interpretation, have been issued for minor offenses such as laughing, and are far more likely to involve African American students than students of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. But nearly 9 in 10 teachers surveyed by the California Teachers Association in 2016 said they need training and more access to school mental health providers if they are going to successfully cut back on disciplinary referrals. The California School Boards Association is asking that the bill be amended to allow suspensions for disruptive or defiant behavior in high school.

Status: Passed the Assembly and heading for a floor vote in the Senate.

Meal shaming

Across the nation, and in many California districts, students who don’t have money to pay for subsidized lunches are given a token meal, like a cup of milk and a piece of fruit, or, in some high schools, nothing at all. Sometimes, their hand is stamped in front of their peers in line, as a reminder to get their parents to pay on time. SB 250, by Robert Hertzberg, D-LA, would establish a uniform, statewide policy to ensure that a pupil whose parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees is served a full meal and is not shamed or treated differently than a pupil who is paid up.

Why it’s important: Teachers agree that students who are hungry can’t concentrate on their work; recent research from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that student test scores in California rose with good quality school lunches.

Status: The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the Assembly Education Committee 6-0. It will move to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

English learner reclassification

Researchers and advocates for English learners agree that determining when English learners are proficient in English and 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.

Why it’s important: 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 advanced high school and college prep courses. Bill proponents worry that premature reclassification will deny English learners needed supports. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: The bill passed the Assembly unanimously and will be heard by the Assembly Education Committee.

Reserve cap

Ever since Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to a deal with the California Teachers Association three years ago that places a cap on the amount that school districts can keep in reserve for emergencies, the California School Boards Association has been trying to get rid of it. Neither of two bills in play would do that, but both would ease the restrictions that districts object to. AB 325 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would keep the limits, about 6 percent of the size of the budget for an average district, but set new, tighter preconditions on when they would go into effect. SB 751, by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which the school boards association prefers, would exempt most small districts and raise the cap to 17 percent for others.

Why it’s important: That depends on who you ask. The CTA says much is being made over nothing, since the conditions triggering the reserve cap are still years away. Districts say there should be no cap at all under local control, and Brown, the patron of the Local Control Funding Formula, had no business imposing it. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: Talks continue on a compromise. If there’s a deal, it will likely come at the end of the summer. Whether Brown will get involved is an open question.

Ban on for-profit charter schools

AB 406, by Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, would prohibit the creation of for-profit charter schools after Jan. 1, 2019.

Why it’s important: There are only six for-profit charters in California. The bill’s author said he was motivated when he learned that a for-profit company obtained millions in taxpayer funds while operating K-12 online academies that graduate less than half of their high school students. The company also allegedly counted students as present for a school day even if they were logged on for as little as a minute. The company last year reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state on those allegations. McCarty said the bill will end the privatization of public education and puts student success ahead of corporate profits. The bill’s critics say the legislation is really designed to curb the charter school movement. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2015. He said the bill could be interpreted to restrict the ability of nonprofit charter schools to continue using for-profit vendors.

Status: The state Assembly approved the bill in May. The state Senate education committee is now reviewing the legislation.

Restrictions on charter school expulsions and suspensions

AB 1360, by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, would create new regulations that charter schools would have to follow when attempting to suspend or expel students. It also prohibits charter schools from requiring parents to volunteer for school activities.

Why it’s important: There has been push for all public schools to lower suspension rates, which are disproportionately high for African-American and Latino students. Charter school critics claim that some schools use suspension policies to push out low-performing students. Charter school supporters say the bill infringes on their state-mandated freedom. The California Charter Schools Association says its members should have the latitude to create their suspension and expulsion policies.

Status: The state Assembly approved the bill in May. The state Senate’s education committee is now reviewing the bill.

Late school start

SB 328, by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, would require middle and high schools to start their regular school days no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by July 1, 2020, except for those in rural school districts that obtain waivers from the state Board of Education to delay implementation for at least two years. The requirement would not apply to so-called “zero period” classes offered at some secondary schools as extra periods before the regular school day begins. It could require the state to reimburse districts for mandated costs.

Why it’s important:  It is based on recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on teenagers. It is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, California State PTA, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, California Federation of Teachers, California Sleep Society and several hospitals, school districts and student advocacy groups.  If adopted, California would be the first state to mandate a later start. The bill could improve attendance rates and graduation rates and reduce tardiness, according to a Senate analysis. However, the analysis also cited “potential unintended impacts” on working and single parents who may not be able to adjust their schedules, districts’ home-to-school transportation costs, extracurricular activities, and before and after-school programs. The California School Boards Association and California Teachers Association oppose the bill.

Status: Passed in the Senate, with 23 members voting in favor, 13 voting against and two not voting. It is scheduled for a July 12 hearing in the Assembly Committee on Education.

Sanctuary state

Senate Bill 54, by State Senate President pro Tem Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles), would prohibit local police and other authorities — including those who work at schools — from cooperating with federal immigration agents without a warrant.

Why it’s important: 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 would 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 has threatened to withhold grants for so-called sanctuary cities and states, saying they hinder the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. Some California county sheriffs have also 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. In April, a federal judge sided with two California counties that had sued the Trump Administration over its threat to withhold funding.

Status: The bill passed the State Senate on April 3 by a vote of 27-12. It’s currently under review with the Assembly judiciary committee.

This article was originally published by EdSource.org

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