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
What is a weighted student formula and will it work?
The Senate Republican Caucus policy office released a briefing report on the governor’s proposed weighted student formula to reform education funding in California. Conclusion: the governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction but not sufficient to move the needle of student performance. Additional steps are necessary, including the following proposals:
Remove districts’ ability to designate or maintain a pupil as an ELL solely to secure additional funding.
Provide charter schools the same base and weighted funding as all other public schools.
Grant the school site principal the power to make staffing and site-level budget decisions independent of most district rules and overly restrictive collective bargaining mandates.
Offer and oblige, in addition to local control, local accountability in the form of parental choice and open enrollment.
Reward successful schools with greater autonomy and funding so they can build on their success and serve more students with more options.
Accept zero tolerance for failing schools. The state is ultimately responsible for educating kids. If a school or district does not effectively educate kids, the school or district should ultimately be dissolved and replaced with one that succeeds.
Public charter funding < Traditional school funding
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report on school funding in traditional schools versus public charter schools. They conclude that charters currently receive almost $400 less per pupil. In a class of 25 students, that’s $10,000 fewer dollars to provide resources and salaries. Despite this, charter schools still serve large English Language Learner and low-income populations.
As expected, there is a fresh crop of new bills seeking to regulate or change the education system in California. Here are some of those bills:
AB 1172 would make it much harder to start a charter school by making the financial health of the district a consideration. This bill has made a splash in the media recently and a number of editorial boards have opposed it.
AB 1563 allows school districts to permit unpaid volunteers to work on maintenance projects at schools.
AB 1573 would exempt foster children from the current requirement that students to attend public school in district in which parent or legal guardian resides. (As a side note, I have authored legislation that would have allowed ALL to students choose their school no matter where they reside).
SB 1080 would encourage the instruction provided in economics to include instruction related to the understanding of personal finances.
In addition to reporting on charter school funding, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) also analyzed the governor’s budget, and there are a few thoughts worth noting. First, the LAO agrees with Governor Brown that the state should not implement the new “Transitional Kindergarten” program saying “…now is not the time to initiate major new programs or authorizing program expansions.”
They also believe the governor’s tax approach to the budget is flawed since the entire budget is based on the assumption his tax increase initiative will be supported by voters. The LAO suggests crafting a budget around what the state can currently afford. The LAO says the governor’s mid-year backup plan–also known as ‘trigger cuts’ — would “create significant uncertainty for schools.”
And as I mentioned last month, the trigger cuts are all aimed at education. The governor would be wise to prioritize education over other areas of the budget and also look to government waste for cost reductions.
Back to the top
A Word On Education From Senator Huff
Pink Slip Law Hurts Teachers
Next month, an illogical public school custom will once again take place. On March 15, every year school districts are required to notify any teachers that will be laid off. Because school districts have no idea what their budget will look like on March 15, they overestimate and send out hordes of “pink slips” (also known as layoff or Reduction in Force (RIF) notices) to teachers who will never actually be laid off. Mass anxiety among faculty follows as seemingly everyone’s job is in question. And the media will portray the affair as actual system-wide layoffs.
Months later, when school districts have a clearer idea of what state revenues will look like, the vast majority of these notices will be rescinded. While ultimately good news for many teachers, this custom causes months of unnecessary pain, anguish and disruption both in the classroom and in the personal lives of teachers.
There is no logic behind the requirement to notify staff of layoffs by March 15. No other profession has a 3 month long notice requirement. More importantly, school districts operate on what happens in the state budget (their primary source of revenue) — which isn’t finalized until June. The March 15 notification law asks school districts to make the most critical budget decision (staff make up 85-93% of school budgets) four months before the state has adopted a budget.
This law creates problems for everyone. School districts can’t properly plan for the next school year, and it creates unnecessary anxiety for teachers. Last year, in Elk Grove Unified, one of California’s larger school districts, 445 teachers received pink slips and by July every single teacher kept their job after the district was able to properly assess the budget.
Even the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has recommended repealing it, reinforcing the idea that if we moved the notification date, “districts would have better information regarding the state budget and its likely impact on their local budget.” The Ed Trust West says that in 2010 in three of California’s largest districts in March of 2010, 78 percent [of pink slips] were rescinded by July 1.”
There is one group who finds this process useful, however. Union bosses love this law because they portray to the media that thousands of layoffs are underway which–despite the angst it creates for teachers–puts pressure on lawmakers to bend the budget priorities their way. They actually put their own members through months of fear and angst for more political leverage.
Due to pink slips delivered in school districts like Elk Grove, the statewide public employee unions used the opportunity to make political hay and called the “just in case” pink slips a “state of emergency” citing examples like Elk Grove Unified.
I attempted to repeal the law two years ago but, you guessed it, it was sidelined due to union pressure. So next month, when the news reports that thousands of teachers are facing layoffs, remember nearly all of those pink slips will be rescinded and the ones who are fabricating the hysteria are public unions who oppose moving the notification date.
Back to the top
Report suggests schools improve after some students leave
School districts that lost a significant number of students through the state’s open enrollment program tended to see a boost in student achievement the following school year, according to a study led by a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater economics professor.
California Assembly approves bill making it easier for school districts to deny charter schools
Broadway Elementary in Venice launched the effort to boost enrollment. The plan worked so well the principal is concerned that dual–language learners will outnumber students in regular classes.
Analyst raises education concerns with Jerry Brown’s Plan B
Gov. Jerry Brown built his budget on the hope of voters passing a multibillion-dollar tax hike in November, but the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office raised questions about his treatment of education funding in a new report issued today.
No Child Left Behind: Obama administration grants 10 waivers
The Obama administration has given 10 states a waiver from the federal law known as No Child Left Behind — once a bipartisan hope to raise education standards, but now generally regarded as too cumbersome and draconian.
Teachers want moratorium on layoffs and a new evaluation system
Los Angeles teachers have approved a much-watched initiative that calls for a moratorium on layoffs as well as a new teacher-evaluation system.
John Deasy: LAUSD broke state law
Deasy issued a statement saying he’d ordered his staff to investigate why the district had failed to notify the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing within 30 days that teacher Mark Berndt had been fired.
Back to the top
The Poverty Myth Persists
So, with education. Want a convenient scapegoat for our problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy.
Union targets charter schools with bill
Charter schools are spreading throughout America. Charters are public schools that are allowed wide latitude to work outside the traditional public-school model. Commonly they’re not unionized.
Putting the Schools in Charge
An entrepreneur’s vision for a more responsive education system.
‘Parent Trigger’ School Reform Effort in Adelanto Attacked
If the Adelanto Unified Elementary School District verifies a parent petition to overhaul its lowest-performing campus, Desert Trails Elementary, this will mark the first time that a powerful new California law called the “Parent Trigger” has successfully been pulled.
Back to the top