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On Tuesday, the California Assembly passed two education reform bills aimed at improving the state's lowest performing schools and placing the state in line to receive a portion of the $4.3 billion in federal Race to the Top funds set aside for education. The two bills, SB 5X 4 and SB 5X 1, contain several controversial measures which have been opposed by the teachers unions and other critics. Under the new bills, school districts and parents will have several new tools at their disposal to fix a failing school.
The first, in SB 5X 4, is the "open enrollment" policy which would allow students to transfer from a low-performing school to a more successful one, even if that school is outside their district. Jeff Freitas, an advocate for the California Federation of Teachers, said the measures would divide parents and teachers at schools. While some students could transfer to other campuses, Freitas said, "you are leaving students behind with no reform for that school." This option is already available within certain districts such as the Los Angeles County School District.
Another proposed reform attaches to 75 of the lowest performing schools. Under this proposal, district officials would be required to take action in response to a parent petition. If at least 50% of the parents at one of these schools sign a petition, the school board must take action by choosing one of a handful of options: close the campus, convert it to a charter school, or replace the principal and other administrators.
Not everyone involved in education is convinced that the proposed reforms will be good for California. California Teachers Assn. representative Patricia A. Rucker accused lawmakers of being lured by the promise of federal funding. "If it was not for the money that you are chasing in this onetime application, would you have seriously considered taking such an expeditious, such a short-circuited and ill-considered approach?" Rucker asked the Assembly Education Committee.
But in cash-strapped California, the bottom line is the bottom line. Responded Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento): "We are not in a position to turn our backs on the potential of $700 million to help kids in high-poverty schools."
According to state Superintendant of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, more than half of the school districts in the state already have agreed to make the necessary reforms.