Legislation Update - 01/20/2010


After dramatic votes in the Assembly and Senate, two major education bills made their way to the Governor's desk. Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law both bills on January 7, 2010. The bills are SBx5 1 (Steinberg) and SBx5 4 (Romero), meaning they are SB 1 and SB 4 of the fifth extraordinary session. That special session was called last fall by the Governor in order to address legislative actions he felt were necessary to make California competitive for federal "Race to the Top" funding.

Although the political impetus behind the bills was Race to the Top (RTTT), both bills will impact all school districts, regardless of whether they apply for RTTT funding, and the areas of impact are not just parent choice and low-achieving schools.

Among other provisions, SBx5 1:

  • Extends the sunset date for the STAR program from 2012 to 2013. This will allow California to see what changes are approved in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act before revising our own assessment program and incorporate any changes necessary to implement an individualized student growth model.
  • Requires the State Superintendent and State Board by January 1, 2011, to recommend approaches to:
    • increase the emphasis on science and mathematics in the API "or any successor measure";
    • incorporate a measure of students' preparation to attain entry-level employment, and;
    • incorporate a measure of students' preparation to succeed in postsecondary education.
  • Requires the State Superintendent and State Board to make recommendations by July 1, 2013, for a methodology to implement an individualized student growth model for assessment and accountability.
  • Establishes a 21-member "Academic Content Standards Commission" "to develop academic content standards in language arts and mathematics..." These standards shall be based largely (at least 85%) on the standards being developed nationally. The new standards must be approved or rejected by the State Board of Education by August 2, 2010.
  • Waivers the 30-month timeline requirement between the adoption of criteria for instructional materials and the deadline for publishers to submit materials. This will allow the state to move more quickly on the adoption of new English/language arts and mathematics materials based on the new or revised standards.

Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools

SBx5 1 requires the State Superintendent and State Board to develop a list of the lowest 5% of schools in Program Improvement, plus the lowest 5% of schools eligible for, but not receiving Title I funds, plus any high school that had a graduation rate of less than 60% in each of the previous three years (county community, juvenile court, and special education schools are excluded). School districts would then be required to implement one of the four federally established turnaround strategies for these schools unless the State Superintendent and Board determine the school has implemented a reform within the past two years that conforms to the RTTT requirements.

Open Enrollment

Probably the most controversial of the provisions in the two bills was the Open Enrollment program established by SBx5 4. Under this program, the State Superintendent shall annually create a list of 1,000 low-achieving schools, ranked according to API "with the same ratio of elementary, middle and high schools as existed in Decile 1 in the 2008-09 school year." Court, community, and community day schools are exempted from this list. Not more than 10% of the schools in a district may be on the list.

Districts with identified schools shall notify the parents of students in those schools of their option to transfer to another school in the district or in another district. Parents must apply to transfer prior to January 1. Within 60 days of receiving an application, the school district where enrollment is being requested shall notify the parent in writing whether the application is approved or rejected. If rejected, the district shall state the reasons for the rejection. Districts may adopt "specific, written standards for the acceptance or rejection" of applications, but such standards shall not include consideration of a pupil's previous academic achievement, physical condition, proficiency in the English language, family income, among others.

Parents whose children are accepted for transfer would be allowed to enroll in their new schools at the beginning of the next school year.

"Parent Empowerment"

The "Parent Empowerment" program established by SBx5 4 would provide that where a majority of parents of students attending a school sign a petition, the school district shall implement one of the four federal turnaround options for that school. This option applies to schools NOT identified as persistently low-achieving (see above), that are in Title I corrective action, continue to fail to meet AYP, and have an API score of less than 800.

The petition option is particularly complicated for middle and high schools because the signature requirement is either one half of the parents or legal guardians of students attending the school "or a combination of at least one-half of the parents or legal guardians of pupils attending the school and the elementary or middle schools that normally matriculate into a middle or high school, as applicableā€¦"

What Next?

The open enrollment provisions of SBx5 4 may be of particular interest to districts with IB schools. In some areas of the state, parents who have children in a low-achieving school may want to transfer their children to an IB school. Districts need to evaluate this potential and start developing a timeline and plan to respond to the new requirements enacted in SBx5 4.

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