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
Backdoor Veto of School Choice
A recent article highlights the Legislature’s attack on the state’s largest public school choice program, Open Enrollment. While it’s a fair depiction of the situation what they leave out is that there is a backdoor assault on the program going on at the State Board of Education – a fairly powerful board that gets less attention. A number of school districts have filed for waivers (through the Board) from the state’s largest school choice program. In other words, some local school leaders want to get out of letting parents choose what school is best for their kids.
Board members were split on rejecting or approving the waivers and because the Board has three empty seats waiting for the governor’s appointments, there was no majority to make a final decision. The waivers were given a default approval due to a state law that requires any waiver to be approved if the board fails to address them for two consecutive meetings which is what happened here. The bottom line is that because some Board members felt governing boards instead of parents should decide what school is best suited for children, the waivers were granted and parents and kids lost out.
The governor released a revised budget in May and while he increases the size of government, his budget still provides little help for schools. Under the Governor’s new plan, total state spending (all fund sources) will reach a new historic high of nearly $225 billion in 2012-13. This is $10 billion higher than 2011-12 (current year) and $30 billion higher than 2007-08 spending at the height of the state’s revenue bubble before the “great recession” hit.
However, state programmatic funding for K-12 education would remain roughly flat from 2011-12 ($44.6 billion) to 2012-13 ($44.8 billion) despite raising taxes by $8.5 billion. If the tax increase is approved in November, schools get nothing in programmatic funding. If the tax measure fails, schools get 99% of the $6 billion in cuts. But schools are only 40% of the budget!
As I have mentioned before, there is no reason to cut education like the governor is proposing. I have released a plan to fully fund and prioritize education whether or not taxes pass in November and I have communicated this to the governor and majority party leaders.
State General Fund revenues are projected to be $83.2 billion while baseline budget year (2012-13) revenues grow to $88.1 billion. This represents a year-over-year increase of $4.9 billion (5.9 percent) without any tax increase. New taxes, on top of having the 3rd highest unemployment rate in the nation are not the answer. Instead, we should be creating jobs that build a larger tax base, allowing us to fund our schools and ensure our students are employed after they graduate.
Years Later – Nothing has been done
In 2005, legislative leaders called for an exhaustive study into the state of education in California and what could be done to improve it in the areas of governance, finance, personnel policies and data. $2.6 million dollars later, Stanford University released twenty studies on education in California. There were press conferences and a good deal of fanfare. In Sacramento, these studies were authoritative and a pretty big deal. The studies showed that “flaws in California’s school finance and governance systems were likely hindering the quality of education available to students in the State.”
Now five years after its release, a report analyzes what California has done since Getting Down to Facts studies. The answer is next to nothing. The report released by the Policy Analysis for California Education says “many of the issues identified in Getting Down to Facts that were hindering education then, still apply today.” And it’s not for lack of opportunity. The new report even identifies two of my bills on teacher quality, which unfortunately were not approved. It is unfortunate that a respected and highly visible study was effectively ignored by the state leaders who requested it.
More Reform Rejected
On the Assembly side of the Legislature, the Appropriations Committee blocked yet another bill attempting to reform the school dismissal process – this time a bill proposed by the Assembly Republicans in response to the recent tragedy at Miramonte Elementary School. The very modest reforms were proposed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The bill was watered down quite a bit in the Assembly Education committee in an effort to compromise for bipartisan support. Unfortunately, much of the legislation in Sacramento that makes it out of policy committee dies quietly in fiscal related committees without a vote, and this bill was no exception. It’s a good example demonstrating that even good faith efforts to work on a bipartisan basis will somehow be quashed if someone behind the scenes doesn’t like it.
I held my bi-annual meeting with the Superintendents from my district. It is a great opportunity to dialogue on what schools are facing and how budget proposals will affect students.
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A Word On Education From Senator Huff
How courts may have a larger impact on schools than the Legislature
Teacher quality is perhaps the single most important issue in education policy. This is why I spend a fair amount of ink on these pages addressing the issue and why it has been at the forefront of the education reform debate in the past few years. Research has even demonstrated that ensuring all classrooms have even an average teacher would close the achievement gap that has plagued the education system for so long.
As it stands now, school districts have minimal control over who will have the privilege to stand in front of their students and teach. This is due to laws like Last in, First Out (LIFO) which require schools to make staffing decisions not based on how well teachers teach, but literally how long they have been breathing – since all staffing choices are strictly based on how long someone has been teaching.
To make matters worse, the current teacher evaluations used by most school districts are not providing sufficient feedback for teachers to improve. That’s why 97% of teachers in the entire state of California are deemed effective. There are a great deal of talented teachers out there, but no profession has that kind of success rate. Evaluations aren’t tied to what the teachers are paid to do – how well they teach students. Without any proper metrics, how are we to properly measure teachers?
Year after year, the State Legislature has demonstrated its inability to address the issue. Personally, I have twice sponsored legislation but both bills were derailed despite having bipartisan support.
Advocates for reform have therefore given up on the Legislature and are now trying to achieve changes through another branch of government: the judicial system. Ground zero for this approach is in Los Angeles, but it could have statewide implications. One example is a lawsuit filed on behalf of a number of students and schools in L.A. claiming LIFO policies are in direct conflict with their constitutional right to equal educational opportunity. Since younger, less experienced teachers were concentrated in the schools in question (mostly made up of low income populations), students were heavily impacted when layoffs were made. Some schools experienced 80 percent staff turnover in one year, which was highly disruptive to the students.
The students’ representatives then negotiated a settlement in which layoffs would be prevented at up to 42 schools – requiring a departure from the LIFO policy. As usual, the local union opposed the settlement and have since appealed. While the appeals case is still pending, I have filed a “friend of the court” briefing in support of the students.
Another lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of parents contends that LA Unified and its local union (UTLA) are not complying with a 1971 law that explicitly states teacher evaluations shall use student test scores as part of an overall evaluation. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (who amended the law when he was in the State Legislature) supports the parents’ claim. If the parents are successful, the lawsuit could have statewide implications for how teachers are evaluated – including the use of test scores.
Finally and most recently, a group called Students Matter has filed a lawsuit against the state, stating that a series of state laws are preventing students from receiving their constitutional protected right to a quality education. The laws in question include LIFO, tenure and convoluted dismissal laws – all of I which I have attempted to reform in the past few years.
If the plaintiffs in these cases are successful it will be good for students. But there is one major problem with this strategy: it lets state representatives off the hook. Too many state representatives have shamefully said ‘no’ to reform. While I hope the students and parents are successful in these cases, we would be remiss if we ignored the fact that by failing to act on reform, state leaders have outsourced their responsibilities to a handful of judges – and that is a loss for democracy.
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Survey Shows Californians Overwhelmingly Support Ending Seniority-Based Teacher Layoffs
More than 75 percent favor reforms to replace ‘Last in, First out’ policy; Support among Hispanic and African American Voters Tops 80 Percent.
Parents trying to form La Puente-only school district
A grassroots group of La Puente-area parents dissatisfied with the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District are trying to split from the district and form a La Puente-only school district.
Calif. lawsuit attacks teacher employment rules
Lawyers for seven California schoolchildren are suing the state in an attempt to overturn five laws that they say violate their constitutional right to a fair education because they protect bad teachers.
Students at charter-run Locke do better than nearby peers
Locke students were more likely to graduate and to have taken courses needed for a state college, a study says. Still, overall achievement remains low.
Another Race to the Top begins
The Department of Education will award $400 million to school districts in its latest contest to improve education. The challenge is to create personalized plans to teach students from poor and rural families.
New proposal to evaluate teachers includes student test scores
A coalition of Los Angeles teachers, parents and community members Thursday unveiled a proposal to use student test scores as one measure to evaluate teachers—a controversial element that many teacher unions have fought.
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California wants own ‘No Child Left Behind’ rules
California wants its own, special waiver. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should not grant it, and probably won’t.
Overturn tenure for state teachers
California‘s got problems, and in these times of budgetary woes it can be hard to focus on creative solutions beyond the merely monetary.
Measuring its effects on students‘ future earnings
VIDEO: Good Teachers Boost Students‘ Future Pay
Harvard professor John Friedman talks with the Wall Street Journal about the study he did (with Raj Chetty and Jonah Rockoff) on the effects a high-value-added teacher can have on students‘ future earnings.
Newton: A split among Democrats
Especially in California, the party is deeply divided on the question of how best to improve schools.
The Dilemma Of Academic Diversity
Last week was the fifty-eighth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, so it‘s fitting that the lead article in Thursday‘s New York Times is about America‘s growing diversity. “Whites Account for Under Half of Births in U.S.,” the headline reads. The story immediately focuses on the issue of schools. “The United States has a spotty record educating minority youth; will older Americans balk at paying to educate a younger generation that looks less like themselves? And while the increasingly diverse young population is a potential engine of growth, will it become a burden if it is not properly educated?”
California‘s Open Enrollment Act threatens the status quo—and that‘s why it‘s under assault.
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