News, Views & Capitol Updates on All Things Education
Edited by Senator Bob Huff
Member of the Senate Education Committee
Welcome to the Huff Chalkboard, a source for news, views and insider updates from Sacramento on California education issues. As a member of the Senate Education Committee, I am pleased to keep you updated on some of the leading stories concerning California’s education system. I will also provide some of my own thoughts on topics and challenges facing education today. Please feel free to send me your feedback and any ideas you have to improve the Huff Chalkboard newsletter. Thank you for your readership.
- Senator Bob Huff
Analysis compares districts’ spending, academic performance
California’s enormously complicated, and notoriously opaque, school financing system often defies understanding and analysis in ways that are accessible to ordinary Californians.
Anti-seizure schools bill clears key Senate hurdle
A state bill that would allow teachers and other non-medical personnel to administer an emergency anti-seizure medication to students cleared a key legislative hurdle last week, passing through the Senate committee that killed an almost identical bill a year ago.
Michelle Rhee’s advocacy group opens shop in Sacramento
StudentsFirst, the advocacy group launched by former Washington D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, opened shop in Sacramento this week.
Kids’ seizure meds bill advances despite union opposition
A bill that would allow schools to train employees to administer medication to children during a seizure passed out of the state Senate last week, despite strong opposition from nurses and teachers. As drama in the state Capitol goes, this bill has it all.
Wilson’s upturn: Parents key in school efforts
Keith Keiper is known as Testing Man at Wilson Elementary School. At assemblies and other school events, Keiper dons a cape and mask and rides a scooter to get students excited about taking tests.
‘Parent Trigger’ Laws: Shutting Schools, Raising Controversy
When people first hear about the radical-sounding law, they are almost always taken aback. But what they might not know is that failing schools can already be shut down by school districts under the No Child Left Behind law. The parent trigger simply takes the option provided to the school board and hands the power to the parents.
West Covina charter school gets approval to become independent of district
In a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the West Covina Unified school board voted to let its charter school break away from the district and operate as an independent non-profit organization.
Despite Success, California’s American Indian Charter Expansion Thwarted
Although Oakland Unified School District officials praise the school’s performance record, they have routinely denied AIPSC’s applications for additional charters since 2008.
West Contra Costa Retains Newbie Teachers During Decline
Layoffs and California’s last hired-first fired policy have meant a state and county decline in the number of teachers with less than two years of experience. West Contra Costa bucks the trend.
Owners of Calif. test pilot school settle tax case
The owners of a Southern California civilian test pilot school pleaded guilty Monday to defrauding the federal government of nearly $710,000 by filing a false tax return related to a secret Swiss bank account, and are expected to pay more than $2 million in civil penalties.
U.S. may waive some education mandates for states
If Congress fails to approve changes to a key school accountability bill, federal officials will consider waiving some mandates for states that agree to educational reforms.
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Big changes for better teachers
A report commissioned by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and civil rights groups is recommending sweeping changes in the way Los Angeles Unified recruits, hires, evaluates, and pays teachers, as well as substantial changes in state laws in areas such as tenure and seniority rights that obstruct teacher effectiveness.
The education victimizers in chief
When masses of unionized school teachers recently stormed into the state Capitol to protest in favor of higher taxes, they painted themselves as victims of Sacramento politics. Behind this scripted and bombastic street theater, the reality is that powerful and wealthy teachers unions are the victimizers in chief in the government-run education status quo.
L.A. Unified: A report card
A review by the National Council on Teacher Quality highlights some of the district’s wasteful, counterproductive practices.
Teacher quality must be Job 1 of education reform in L.A.
The governor and the Legislature must prioritize both education funding and reform, because either is useless without the other. Excellent schools are crucial to the state and shouldn’t become fodder for partisan politics.
Legislature should follow gutsy districts challenging seniority-based layoffs
If Sacramento acted on behalf of our students and communities, this law would be fixed already. But with the levers of power controlled by adult - not student - interests, Sacramento has failed to act.
State takes aim at charter schools
From the spate of anti-charter school legislation coming out of the state Assembly, you wouldn’t know that California once was on the leading edge of the charter school movement.
Jerry Brown should spare CALPADS
The California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System would track students from K through 12 and yield truly valuable information. But Jerry Brown has proposed cutting the $8.5 million needed.
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A budget was passed earlier this month largely along party lines which some alluded that it could have been an attempt to circumvent a new law (passed by the people through Proposition 25) requiring the Legislature to pass a balanced budget by June 15 or they forgo their paycheck. The budget was deemed out of balance and Legislators lost their pay. One of the most unfortunate features of the budget was how it treated Proposition 98. The State Controller said the budget underfunded education by $1.3 billion, which is not possible without a 2/3 vote of the Legislature, except no Republicans supported this cut to education. The Governor vetoed this budget plan saying it was “not a balanced solution.”
Just this week, Democrats passed (and this time the Governor signed) a budget which the State Controller appears to believe is balanced but it hinges on the prospect of $4 billion materializing over the next fiscal year.
Out with the New and in with the Old
Amidst talk of reforming the status-quo of education, many legislators are hoping that old ideas rejected by former governors will have a better shot at becoming law with a new governor in Sacramento. Some of the education related issues that are being reintroduced after seeing a governor’s veto in the past include, AB 130 and AB 131 which will allow undocumented immigrants to receive public subsidies for college tuition. Another replay of past years includes AB 815 which would establish an official “seal of biliteracy” to be affixed to high school diplomas for students who achieve certain standards in English and a foreign language. Finally, Assemblymember Ma is reintroducing legislation to encourage academic instruction concerning the roles Filipinos played during World War II.
Effective Teaching Connected to Economic Growth
An interesting article based on a study by Eric A. Hanushek, shows just how important teachers are to not just to students but to future economic growth. According to the study “the teacher at the 60th percentile will - each year - raise students’ aggregate earnings by a total of $106,000. The impact of one at the 69th percentile (as compared to the average) is $212,000, and one at the 84th percentile will shift earnings up by more than $400,000.”
Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
NOTE TO PARENTS: Many school districts are getting the word out about a law passed last year some are deeming “No Shot, No School” which requires all students to get a whooping cough immunization and applicable boosters before starting school in grades 7-12. Contact your school district about where to go for the shots and don’t forget to share your child’s immunization record with your district before school starts. .
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A Word from Senator Huff
California School Boards Association: What are taxpayers getting for their money?
I have often said there is a great deal of waste in the $65 billion spent every year on public education in California. For an example of such waste look no further than the California School Boards Association (CSBA). CSBA is the quasi-public organization tasked with lobbying on behalf of school districts from all over the state. School districts pay dues to CSBA with public dollars to represent their interests in Sacramento, but there are questions about whether these public dollars are being well-spent.
Last year it was revealed by a Sacramento-based news outlet that the CSBA executive director, Scott Plotkin, was receiving a City of Bell-style salary of $562,333 (plus public employee system pension benefits), two-and-a-half times more than the governor’s salary. Plotkin was also found spending $11,000 on a company credit card at a local casino.
While the CSBA director was eventually phased out, he will still receive a publicly funded retirement pension package of $205,000 a year for the rest of his life. Plotkin is only fifty-seven years old.
This month, there are new allegations that CSBA is receiving publicly funded kickbacks for recommending certain consulting companies to school districts. In other words, CSBA recommends a company to a school district, the school district contracts with said company, and the company then pays CSBA a share of the profits. In at least one case, a firm which CSBA recommends charges 40 percent more than another comparable company.
Another company claims that CSBA stopped partnering with them because they weren’t offering enough “royalty revenue” to CSBA and that CSBA chose the more expensive vendors because they have this royalty incentive. Why is CSBA receiving these royalties in first place? And shouldn’t this money be spent in classrooms instead of on consultants?
Nevertheless, the President of CSBA, Martha Fluor, felt it was appropriate to stand beside Governor Brown at a press conference this month and lecture legislators who do not support the Governor’s tax increases, explaining that “kids are suffering.” Perhaps the CSBA President should look at her organization’s operations and justify how they benefit students.
In response to CSBA’s dealings, some have called for more transparency when it comes to their spending of taxpayer dollars. Yet when I introduced legislation earlier this year, which called on school districts to post all district expenditures on their websites, the CSBA was the first to stand up and oppose the bill, stating that the new law would create “an administrative burden.”
Come to think of it, CSBA has a poor record of legislative advocacy on behalf of taxpayers. When California attempted to reform its education system in response to President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, including legislation to give parents the flexibility to transfer their children to better schools, CSBA opposed those efforts too. CSBA is happy, however, to support legislation limiting the number of charter schools allowed in the state, effectively putting a cap on school innovation. How is any of this benefiting kids or sensibly investing taxpayer money?
School districts should have representation in the Capitol hallways. But school boards are elected by parents and taxpayers, and it is their interests that should be voiced by CSBA. So far CSBA has not made the grade in that effort.
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