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Capitol Politics: Return of the Legislature: Final Month of Session

The Legislature returns from summer break today for a final month of work before they head home to their districts, not to reconvene until January. The Legislature is slated to wrap-up for the year on Friday, September 11. Below we have summarized some of the major issues and compiled a summary analysis of some key K-12 education-related bills still moving through the Legislature during these final four weeks. Additionally, there are two Legislative Special Sessions concurrently running - one to address the state’s failing transportation system, the other to increase health care access for the poor. Lastly, and never to be forgotten, there is always the potential of an 11th-hour “gut and amend” of a bill dealing with some hot issue that can cause political intrigue (and a lot of work for us…). We expect these final four weeks of session to be interesting and fast-paced.

The Big Issue: Climate Change - California prides itself on leading the country in adopting big policy changes to address climate change. This year the issue has been getting a lot of attention from Governor Jerry Brown, Senate Leader Kevin de Leon, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and billionaire political contributor Tom Steyer. We think the issue could easily dominate the political horse trading during these final four weeks of session. While there is no shortage of legislative proposals addressing the topic pending in the Legislature, three are particularly worth watching:

Expect the oil industry to lobby hard to kill these measures. The wild card here is the Governor, who has not publicly weighed in any specific proposal, but is actively engaged in the climate change debate on the both the national and international stage (remember his recent letter to Congressional Republicans and his Vatican visit).

The Special Sessions: Roads, Health Care, and Taxes - Meaningful efforts to address roads and health care require additional funding and that will be at the center of the debate over the next few weeks. Tax and fee increases are difficult for the Democrat-led Legislature to enact because they are operating just shy of a 2/3 supermajority (the threshold needed to enact or increase taxes and fees). They will need to work with Republicans. Some Republicans seem open to discussing taxes/fees for transportation, but taxes/fees for health care appear to be a more difficult lift. There is also likely to be a vigorous debate over placing an excise tax on medical marijuana sales, with much of that debate focused on earmarking revenue for anti-drug efforts and putting stringent medical marijuana regulations in place – two moves that might generate Republican votes for the new excise tax. A few bills pending in the Health Care Special Session worth watching:

  • SB x2 5 and AB x2 6 - Leno (D) and Cooper (D): Electronic Cigarettes - Would add electronic cigarettes to the current definition of tobacco products and thereby restrict the use of e-cigarettes in the same locations as traditional cigarettes.
  • SB x2 7 and AB x2 8 - Hernandez (D) and Wood (D): Age for Sale of Tobacco Products - Increase the age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Key K-12 Education Bills - Following is a review of some of the major K-12 education bills still moving through the Legislature during this final stretch of the year. Remember that the Legislature is finishing the first year of a two-year legislative session. Bills that are not voted down are still active when the Legislature returns in January.

AB 47 -  McCarty (D): State Preschool Program

Requires by January 1, 2017, all children who are eligible for the State Preschool Program and who do not have access to transitional kindergarten or the federal Head Start program, have access to the state program the year before they enter kindergarten if their parents wish to enroll them. This is contingent upon an appropriation in the annual Budget Act for this purpose.

As you may recall, the 2015 Budget Act restores funding for 7,030 full-day preschool slots, of which 5,380 are for LEAs and 1,200 are for non-LEA providers, at a cost of $34.3 million. The budget also includes $12.1 million for 2,500 additional part-day slots. Normally, when an issue is addressed through the budget process, any legislation on that issue is dropped. However, in the case of AB 47, Assembly Member McCarty contends that additional action is necessary because CDE has received over 32,000 requests for state preschool and is unable to meet the demand.

Challenging the Governor on an issue is risky. However, McCarty is being reasonable in his approach. The bill is contingent upon an allocation in the state budget but since the 2015-16 budget is already in place and since we are only in the first of a two-year legislative session, the author will have the opportunity to continue negotiating with the Governor through next year, if necessary.

AB 30 - Alejo (D): School or Athletic Team Names: California Racial Mascots Act

This bill would prohibit public schools from using the term “Redskins” for school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames beginning January 1, 2017. The bill would affect four public high schools, according to CDE.  An affected school may continue to use uniforms or other materials with the term “Redskins” that are purchased before January 1, 2017 if certain conditions are met, including selecting a new team name or school mascot.

AB 30 is the third recent attempt to prohibit this term, as both previous bills were vetoed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger.

AB 375 - Campos (D): School Employees: Sick Leave: Paternity and Maternity Leave

A certificated employee may take unpaid leave for illness, accident, maternity, or paternity for up to five months. This bill would require differential pay to be provided to certificated school employees for up to 12 school weeks of maternity or paternity leave. Differential pay is the difference between the employee’s salary and the sum that is actually paid to a substitute employee hired to fill his or her position during absence, or, if no substitute employee was employed, the amount that would have been paid to the substitute had he or she been employed. Under this bill, the employee would first use all available sick leave and during the next 12 weeks, the employee would receive differential pay. This measure does not change existing collective bargaining agreements. Rather, this section will not apply until a collective bargaining agreement expires or is renewed.

AB 709 - Gipson (D): Charter Schools

Requires that charter schools be subject to a variety of the same open meeting, conflict-of-interest, and disclosure laws as traditional school districts, including the Ralph M. Brown Act, the California Public Records Act, the Political Reform Act of 1974, and the state’s primary conflict-of-interest provisions (Government Code § 1090).

This bill is the newest in a long line of recent attempts to pass legislation that would require charter schools to comply with the same governance provisions as traditional public schools. In the past, these bills have generally reached the Governor’s desk, only to be vetoed. In vetoing a similar bill last year (AB 913 - Chau), Governor Brown noted, “while I support transparency… the bill goes too far in prescribing how charter boards must operate.”

Charter school advocates continue to argue that requiring charter schools to comply with Government Code § 1090, will negatively impact charter schools. They contend that charter school board members often are also donors to the school, and this bill would require them to either stop donating to the school or recuse themselves from critical decisions before the board.  Currently awaiting hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill will likely follow a path similar to its predecessors and successfully reach the Governor’s desk.  Given recent history, however, its ultimate fate remains uncertain.

AB 713 -  Weber (D): Elementary Education: Kindergarten

Requires, beginning with the 2017-18 school year, a student to have completed one year of kindergarten before being admitted to the first grade and specifies that those offering or conducting private school instruction at the kindergarten level shall file notice with the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

This is Dr. Weber’s second attempt to require that all children attend kindergarten before entering the first grade. Last year, she co-authored a similar bill, AB 1444, with then-Assembly Member Joan Buchanan. While that bill cleared the Legislature, it was vetoed by Governor Brown, who noted he would “prefer to let parents determine what is best for their children rather than mandate an entirely new grade level.”

AB 854 - Weber (D): Educational Services: Pupils in Foster Care

Restructures the existing Foster Youth Services program by shifting the primary function from direct services provided by county offices of education and six school districts, to a program of coordination to assist school districts in meeting their statutory obligation to improve the educational outcomes of foster youth pursuant to the Local Control Funding Formula.

In its current form, AB 854 raises some concern as it could cause a drop-off in services to the foster youth currently being directly served by county offices of education and the six school districts. In addition, LEAs are uneasy about the allocation of funds being left completely in the hands of the SPI with very little guidance or certainty about how or when the funds will be allocated. There will be additional amendments to the bill, but it is unclear at the moment how they will address the aforementioned issues of concern.

Some resolution between parties is necessary, however, as the funding allocated in the 2015 State Budget for foster youth services, just over $25 million, is predicated on legislation being enacted to align program requirements to the Local Control Funding Formula. AB 854 is that vehicle and, if the Governor does not approve it, the entire funding allocation will be at risk.

AB 949 - Gonzalez (D): Physical Education: Competition Cheer

Requires the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to develop guidelines, procedures, and safety standards to classify competition cheer as an interscholastic sport. Requires the CIF to seek a United Stated Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Title IX compliance designation for competition cheer.

A goal of this measure is to make cheerleading safer, however the limited scope of the bill raises concern that the bill may be too narrow to be truly effective. The bill only applies to competitive cheer, which currently fewer than 25 high schools offer. Most high schools only offer  “sideline cheer,” where the cheerleaders only cheer on other athletes from the sidelines, which falls outside the scope of AB 949.

AB 1012 - Jones-Sawyer (D): Pupil Instruction: Course Periods without Educational Content

Prohibits, beginning with the 2016-17 school year, a school district serving any of grades 9-12 from assigning students to any course without educational content for more than one week in any semester, and prohibits the assignment of any student to a course that the student has previously completed and received a satisfactory grade, unless specified conditions are met. Also requires the state Superintendent to develop regulates for adoption by the State Board of Education governing these provisions.

While the aim of the bill, to prohibit the placement of students in courses without any academic content, is supported by all stakeholders, some have expressed cost concerns regarding the administrative activities involved with implementation. Other concerns include the fact that the bill does not provide for the scheduling considerations involved in Individualized Education Program accommodations and the potential interpretation of the phrase, “course without any academic content.” A broad interpretation could risk eliminating student opportunities, such as serving as teaching assistants or on student government. If the bill moves forward, look for compromises on these points.

AB 1391 - Gomez (D): Pupil Instruction: Adopted Course of Study: Elementary School: Physical Education: Complaints

Expands the Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP) to include complaints of non-compliance with the required minimum instructional minutes for physical education. Provides that this provision was not intended to create private right of action but that nothing in this subdivision shall restrict or expand the existing right of any party to seek relief pursuant to a writ of mandate.

The bill is intended to prevent the practice of filing large numbers of lawsuits related to this Education Code provision, which have recently resulted in significant attorney’s fees awards. The bill has bi-partisan support and we anticipate it has little trouble getting to the Governor, who has yet to weigh in on the issue, but his staff is keenly aware of the issue.

SB 3 - Leno (D): Minimum Wage: Adjustment

This measure increases the state’s minimum wage over time for all industries, including public and private employment. The increase would be phased in over two years.  Future increases would be tied to inflation. Beginning on January 1, 2016, the minimum wage would be increased to $11 per hour and $13 per hour beginning July 1, 2017. Beginning January 1, 2019, the increase to minimum wage would be calculated annually by multiplying the minimum wage in effect on December 31 of the previous year by the percentage of inflation that occurred during that year.

Any increase in minimum wage will affect school employment in two ways. First, wages for hourly employees on the low end of the wage scale, including part-time and cafeteria workers, will increase automatically and be adjusted for inflation into the future. Second, a minimum wage increase drives up salary scales. To be an exempt employee, an employee’s salary must be at least twice the minimum wage. Therefore, if this bill is enacted, salaries may need to be increased for some employees, potentially fueling an upward shift of all salaries.

We expect this measure to pass from the Legislature, but whether the Governor will sign the bill is less clear. The Department of Finance has voiced opposition to the measure, which signals potential opposition from Governor Brown. However, the Governor has yet to announce any position on this bill. Governor Brown’s considerations may include the fact that California’s current minimum wage increase has not been fully implemented yet — it is set to increase to $10 per hour on January 1, 2016.

SB 172 - Liu (D): Pupil Testing: High School Exit Examination: Suspension

Suspends the requirement to pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) as a condition of receiving a high school diploma of graduation or condition of graduation from high school, for the 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 school years. Requires the State Superintendent to make recommendations regarding the continuation of the CAHSEE and alternative pathways to satisfying high school graduation requirements.

The CAHSEE is not currently aligned to the Common Core State Standards and is largely ineffective as an assessment. However, when the CAHSEE was discontinued by CDE in May 2015, approximately 5,000 students who had not yet passed the exam were unable to exercise their right to retake the exam. In fact, there are many students in the class of 2015 who were set to take the July CAHSEE who have met every other graduation requirement and have been accepted to college but who are now unable to attend. As news regarding the status of these students has become more widespread, the pressure for the Legislature to approve the bill has grown. Amendments are currently being pushed to make the bill an urgency measure, which would make the bill take effect immediately upon signature by the Governor.

SB 445 - Liu (D): Pupil Instruction and Services: Homeless Children

This bill reflects the Legislature’s ongoing effort to provide additional protections for homeless and foster youth. First, the bill requires that homeless students—like those in foster care—be allowed to remain in their school of origin (or matriculate to the feeder school) even when they are no longer homeless. Second, it extends existing law relating to the placement of pupils who reside in licensed children’s institutions to all charter schools, as opposed to only those that participate as members of a special education local plan area. SB 445 faces no opposition and we expect the Legislature to send the bill to the Governor's desk.

SB 597 - Huff (R): Pupil Attendance: Interdistrict Transfers

Provides a one-year extension of the sunset date for the District of Choice Program and requires the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) to complete their evaluation of the program by January 31, 2016. The program was not popular with Democrats when it was enacted as part of a deal pushed to make the state more competitive for federal Race To The Top grant funding. California ultimately did not receive the grant and the program has been a target for elimination by some Democrats who believe it fuels “rich flight” because the program does not provide funding to transport students to other districts. The bill is likely to pass, only because the LAO has not completed its report on the program. Expect more debate over this issue in the future, even if the bill is signed.

Legislative Timelines:

August 17 -                  Legislature reconvenes from Summer Recess

August 28 -                  Last day for fiscal committees to meet and report bills to the Floor

September 4 - Last day to amend bill on the floor

September 7 - Labor Day

September 11 -            Last day for each house to pass bills. Interim Study Recess begins at the end of this day’s session.

October 11 -                Last day for Governor to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature on or before September 11

January 1, 2016 -         Statutes take effect

January 4 -                   Legislature reconvenes

Capitol Advisors Group, LLC Contributors to this Analysis:                   

Barrett Snider

Lee Angela Reid

Erin Evans-Fudem

Derick Lennox

Caitlin Jung

Nick Romley

 

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