By Ricardo Cano | CalMatters
The most significant set of revisions to the state’s charter-school law in more than two decades was signed Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, putting new curbs on a segment of public schools that has grown over time, particularly in cities, to enroll more than 600,000 California kids.
Negotiated over months among lawmakers, charter school advocates and organized labor, the new laws are expected to make it easier both for local school boards to deny new charters and for high-performing charter schools to stay open. Charter schools will have to operate within the boundaries of their authorizing districts, and charter school teachers will have new credentialing requirements.
The legislation followed a high-dollar election in which charter schools were a flashpoint between school reformers and unions anxious to slow the growth of the largely non-unionized educational sector. But it also addresses school quality and oversight issues that have cropped up as the number of California charter schools has burgeoned to some 1,300.
The new laws were celebrated as progress by Newsom and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who both beat back rivals heavily backed by wealthy pro-charter donors, and portrayed as a compromise by the California Charter Schools Association President and CEO Myrna Castrejón. More restrictive charter proposals — including a cap on charters in California — stalled early in the session. “I’m lovin’ this,” Newsom said as he signed the bill, but he added that he was “not naive,” and does not assume the charter debate is over.
Though the high-profile charter school clash got most of the attention, hundreds of proposals were introduced this year with potential impact on K-12 education. Only a fraction made it to Newsom’s desk, as with most legislation. High-profile bills to lower local parcel tax thresholds and prohibit schools from hiring teachers through third-party programs such as Teach For America, for instance, fell short of passage.
A number of measures that cleared the Legislature remain to be signed or vetoed by Newsom, who has until Oct. 13 to make a decision. Big proposals that have yet to be decided would push back school start times for California middle and high schools, put a $15 billion state bond for education on the March 2020 ballot, and enhance paid maternity leave protections for teachers. A second charter-school bill that would close a loophole some small districts have exploited to authorize charters far outside their district boundaries also awaits the governor’s signature.
More bills, however, have been signed and enacted already. Here are some of the most notable new California education laws affecting the state’s K-12 and early childhood pupils and educators.
California’s Charter School Overhaul
The laws: Assembly Bill 1505 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Democrat from Long Beach, Assembly Bill 1507 by Assemblywoman Christy Smith, Democrat from Santa Clarita, and Senate Bill 126 by Sen. Connie Leyva, Democrat from Chino.
After months of negotiations and heated debate, new rules are coming for California’s sector of publicly-funded, independently-operated charter schools. All charter teachers will be required to hold a state teaching credential, and local school boards have broader discretion in approving or denying charters, though charters can still appeal to counties and the state.
Charter schools also will be required to follow the same open-meeting laws as school districts under a proposal that was among the first bills Newsom signed as governor. And a loophole will close that had allowed so-called “far-flung charters” to operate far from the often-tiny school districts that had authorized — and were being paid to oversee — them.
No More Willful Defiance Suspensions
The law: SB 419 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, Democrat from Berkeley.
Largely cheered by civil rights groups, SB 419 permanently bans California public schools from suspending students in first through fifth grades for willful defiance — a justification for suspension and expulsion that advocates for the bill characterize as too subjective and one that is disproportionately imposed on black students and LGBTQ youth.
Once implemented in the 2020-21 school year, the ban on willful defiance suspensions will be temporarily extended to students in sixth through eighth grade through 2025. The initial version of the bill had called for including high-school students in the temporary ban on willful defiance suspensions, but was amended before Newsom signed the bill.
Some large California districts, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, already prohibit willful defiance suspensions to some degree. And suspension rates for California schools have gone down significantly over the past decade as the state began to implement suspension curbs in 2015.
Limiting Contact in Youth Football
The law: AB 1 by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, Democrat from Elk Grove.
Youth football programs in California now are now limited to two full-contact practices per week amid an ongoing public debate over football safety and mounting concerns that have helped lead to significant dips in participation at the high-school level.
After successfully lobbying against a previous proposal that youth football advocates deemed too extreme because it would have outright banned tackle football at the youth level, a coalition of coaches and parents went on the offensive and mobilized behind AB 1.
Unionizing Childcare Workers
The law: AB 378 by Assemblywoman Monique Limón, Democrat from Santa Barbara.
Providers for children who receive state-subsidized care will now have the right to organize a union and bargain with the state. Advocates cheered the move because they believe it will help improve pay and working conditions for a profession that largely employs women of color.
Advocates point to this oft-cited research point as reason for more investments in preschool teachers and childcare providers: More than half of California’s early childhood workforce relies on public assistance.
Resources on Domestic Violence, Sexual Harassment
Starting in October 2020, California high schools will be required to print the phone number for the national domestic violence hotline under SB 316. This follows another new law implemented this year that requires schools to print the number for a suicide prevention hotline on the student IDs for pupils in grades 7 through 12.
A separate new law, AB 543, will also require public high schools in the state to “prominently and conspicuously display” a poster of a district’s sexual harassment policy – including steps for reporting sexual harassment accusations – in every restroom and locker room at a school site.
Stability for Migrant Students
The law: AB 1319 by Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, Democrat from Fresno.
California’s 100,000-plus migrant students will now be allowed to keep attending their “school of origin” as opposed to having to enroll in a new school in the event that their families move to a different residence during the school year.
Though school districts aren’t obligated to provide transportation under AB 1319, supporters of the new law say the provision is needed to help bring stability to a student demographic that research shows is more susceptible to mobility and its ensuing academic hardships.
More Time for Ethnic Studies Plan
The law: AB 114, a clean-up budget trailer bill for education
Less a new law than a technical change to an existing one, AB 114 is nonetheless significant because it effectively pushes back the state’s timeline for adopting a model curriculum for ethnic studies by one year.
The deadline for the State Board of Education to adopt an ethnic studies curriculum under a 2016 law had been this spring. But state leaders, including the governor, supported the move to solicit more feedback following a wave of public criticism that a draft of the curriculum was anti-Semitic and too politically correct.
Clamping Down on Students’ Smartphone Use
The law: AB 272 by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, Democrat from Torrance.
Local school boards will now be allowed to ban or limit students’ use of smartphones while at school except under emergencies or specific circumstances, such as medical reasons. Though educators and experts note that smartphone use can be disruptive to classroom instruction, most of the state’s districts already have policies that address smartphones, according to the California School Boards Association.
CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.
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