In this year’s busy legislative session, Governor Brown signed 316 of the nearly 800 education-related bills sent to his desk. The bills made relatively small changes on a range of issues from local parcel taxes to school disciplinary policy.
In recent years, a series of reforms—including passage of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), adoption of the Common Core State Standards, and the shift to the new computer-based Smarter Balanced tests—have constituted a significant transition for the state’s 6.2 million public school students. These changes were designed to target K–12 funding for students with the greatest needs and focus teaching on the development of critical-thinking skills. Rather than signing off on legislative changes to these reforms, the governor has opted to continue their implementation while shifting some attention to challenges on the horizon.
A review of the fates of three bills, the state budget, and recent administrative actions helps illustrate the current state of education policy in California:
- Aligning state and federal accountability rules. Earlier this year, the State Board of Education adopted a new accountability system for evaluating the progress of schools and districts in the eight priority areas—including parental involvement, school climate, and student achievement—laid out in the LCFF. The governor vetoed Assembly Bill (AB) 2548, which would have compelled the state board to align the accountability system with new federal regulations requiring the state to intervene in the lowest-performing 5% of schools. By using multiple measures, the state’s system takes a more holistic view of student achievement. But this approach makes it difficult to assign a number to each school in order to identify those that need the most help—putting it at odds with the federal government. The governor resisted changing course with his veto, but the state may need a waiver to meet the federal requirement.
- Addressing the teacher shortage. The budget included several teacher workforce initiatives to address the state’s looming shortage, including financial assistance for classified employees interested in teaching and grants to universities encouraging four-year teacher credential programs. The governor signed AB 2248, allowing those with out-of-state credentials to teach English Learners in California. This relatively small change—which addresses one of the subject areas with an acute teacher shortage—stood out in contrast to related legislative efforts that failed, like a bill that would have provided student loan forgiveness for teachers who serve in schools with the most needs.
- Preparing California’s students for the future. The governor also signed AB 2329, creating a 23-member advisory panel tasked with developing a strategic implementation plan to expand access to courses in computer science—a critical field for the 21st century economy. The plan would lay out the standards for a computer science curriculum and increase the number of computer science teachers, with the goal of ensuring access for all students.
These examples show that as the implementation of major education reforms continues, the governor has focused on making small tweaks to the state’s system and laying the groundwork for the coming years. As California’s leaders look toward the future, it is vital that they build a robust educational system that will be able to address both near- and long-term challenges.