Reserve cap rewrite fails, math placement goes to governor

Reserve cap rewrite fails, math placement goes to governor

(Calif.) A bill that would have given school districts more flexibility over the use of reserve funds failed to win passage out of the Legislature late last week as the session ended.

Two other major education bills also stalled – at least for now: One that would have created a new grant program to help schools battle chronic attendance problems in kindergarten through third grades; a second that would have used income from specialized license plates to support violence prevention programs.

Meanwhile, three measures moved to the governor’s desk: a bill modifying the definition of long-term English learners; a requirement that districts adopt clearly defined math placement policies; and authorization for community colleges to partner with K-12 districts for “seamless” student transition.

Although the pool of education bills wasn’t especially high profile this year, the reserve cap issue was one that generated a fair amount of controversy because it largely pitted school administrators against the powerful teachers’ unions.

Established in a last minute budget deal a year ago, the reserve cap provision limits the amount of money school districts can hold in savings. SB 799 by Senators Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, would have established a recommended reserve goal of 17 percent and modified requirements so that money set aside by districts for emergencies, large technology purchases and major construction would not be counted inside the cap.

The proposal was introduced in mid-August with the backing of the California School Boards Association, League of Women Voters of California, California State PTA and Children Now but never got serious consideration in either house.

Also failing to pass out this session was AB 1014 by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, which would have established the Early Intervention Attendance grant program designed to help schools battle chronic attendance problems in kindergarten through third grades.

Under the program, schools would agree to track and report to the California Department of Education student attendance data, including tardiness, chronic absences and truancy. A spokeswoman for the Assemblyman said his plan is to bring the bill back in January.

AB 63 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, would have deposited fees collected from the sale of specialized license plates into the School Violence Prevention Fund, which would also have been created by the legislation. But the plan failed to win support, dying before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Among the education bills moving on to the governor’s desk is SB 750 by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, which expands the definition of the “long-term English learner” aimed at ensuring these students do not become “invisible” or fall through the cracks.

The bill would make several changes including expansion of the grade levels where students at risk of becoming long-term English learners can be identified – from grades five through 11 to grades three to 12.

SB 359 by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, would require school districts to adopt mathematic placement policies governing incoming ninth graders by the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.

Moved out of the Senate as last Friday night’s deadline approached, the bill attempts to establish a “fair, objective and transparent” system for earmarking students in high school math. Currently, state law is silent on how schools perform this duty.

Also now before the governor is AB 288 by Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen of Modesto and Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena which authorizes a community college to enter into a College and Career Access Pathways partnership with the governing board of a school district in its immediate service area.

The bill clarifies that any remedial courses taught by community college faculty can only be offered to high school students who test as non-proficient in grade 10 or 11. It also establishes a process under which high schools and community colleges provide remediation courses as an  intervention in the student's junior or senior year.

In a joint statement, the lawmakers said the bill will make “community college courses more accessible to high schools students,”  and help to “ignite their sense of purpose and drive that is essential in today’s fast-paced world, while improving their eligibility for a wider range of jobs early on.”

Other bills of interest that passed on to the governor:

  • AB 580, authored by Assembly Member Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach), would require the education department to develop model referral protocols for school staff to quickly and appropriately address students’ mental health needs. The bill was sent to the governor with overwhelming support.
  • SB 111 would provide a 20 percent match of federal funds for schools on or near military bases. Author Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, has said the bill is an opportunity to help address much needed school repairs.
  • Another bill aimed at helping students of military families, SB 369, authored by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, would require the education department to track attendance, dropout and graduation rates, and other enrollment data for military students.
  • SB 451, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would revise requirements for comprehensive educational counseling programs to expand and further develop college and career success, postsecondary and technical education counseling.