Digital content bill one step from governor’s desk

A two-year effort to pass legislation requiring textbook publishers to make available digital versions of their content appears to be one step from the governor's desk.

AB 133 by Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, would mandate digital formats be made by any publisher or instructional materials manufacturer that submits a printed textbook for adoption by the California State Board of Education or governing board of a local school district.

Supported by an array of key education groups including the Association of California School Administrators, the bill has also picked up the backing of the Association of American Publishers as well as groups representing students with disabilities, including the California Council for the Blind.

The bill passed off the Assembly floor in May without dissent and won passage from the state Senate - also without opposition - just before the Legislature broke for summer recess earlier this month.

Amendments made in the Senate, however, require that the bill return once more to the Assembly - but expectations are it will be quickly dispatched to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown vetoed similar legislation last fall, saying that while he supported the idea of providing online instructional materials the application itself would put unrealistic requirements on California's businesses that will lead to increased costs of instructional materials."

It remains to be seen if the latest proposal will meet with Brown's approval.

In a statement to the Senate Rules Committee in June, Hagman said the bill will promote freedom and flexibility in how students use educational materials. "It sets the path to bringing modern technology to schools and students to keep costs low and education on the cutting edge," he said.

The major change made to the bill in the Senate would require that the equivalent digital format meet industry standards for web content accessibility for the disabled. Specifically, the bill now asks that publishers meet the most current standards of the Rehabilitation Act and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium.

Although Brown's position related to online learning has evolved in the past year, some recent moves cast doubt on where he might come down on the Hagman bill.

The governor attracted national attention with a plan to get the state's universities to explore online learning curriculum - especially a program that would offer basic skill courses at greatly reduced costs. That program appears to have been pushed to the back burner after a pilot effort at San Jose State returned disappointing student performance.

Meanwhile, Brown used his line-item veto last month to remove $20 million from this year's spending in support of the university online learning program.

As part of his January budget, Brown proposed a rewrite of state rules surrounding independent study so that K-12 districts could offer online courses with fewer restrictions and receive standard state funding support tied to student attendance.

The centerpiece of the plan would have been to allow asynchronous online instruction - meaning the student and teacher would not have to be sharing the same time element.

With release of his revised May budget, however, Brown changed his mind - bowing to concerns about timing from key education groups as well as the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst and the California Department of Education. He said the proposal would be delayed at least until 2014-15.