(Photo courtesy of EdSource)

Starting high school later in the day, giving school districts more latitude to reject charter schools and clamping down on exemptions from vaccinations are among the key — and controversial — bills that legislators will vote on by Sept 13. All of the bills have passed one branch of the Legislature. Gov. Gavin Newsom must sign or veto all bills by Oct. 13. We’ll be updating our list as the bills work their way through the process.

Tighter vaccination exemptions (SB 276)

Bill author(s): Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento

What it would do: Starting Jan. 1, 2021, SB 276 would authorize a physician or registered nurse employed by the California Department of Public Health to review records of student vaccination exemptions at schools where the immunization rate is below 95 percent, as well as physicians who have granted more than five medical exemptions per year. Parents will be able to appeal a denial of an exemption to a medical appeals board.

Why it is important: Since 2016, when California eliminated parents’ right to opt out of the state’s immunization requirement based on a personal belief, exemptions for medical reasons approved by family doctors have increased nearly five-fold. In more than 1,000 schools last year, fewer than 95 percent of kindergartners had their required shots — increasing the chance of outbreaks of communicable diseases. A small number of doctors were issuing the exemptions.

Bill status: Assembly Appropriations Committee. Gov. Newsom has said he’d sign the amended version.

Later school start

Later start of school (SB 328)

Bill author(s): Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-San Fernando Valley

What it would do: SB 328 would mandate that middle schools could not begin the school day before 8 a.m. and high schools, including charter high schools, could not begin earlier than 8:30, starting July 1, 2022.

Why it is important: School districts currently have the authority to set their own operating hours; some already comply with what is proposed. Proponents, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the state PTA, cite research that a later start would help sleep-deprived teenagers perform better in school. Opponents, including the CTA and California School Boards Association, cite impacts on elementary schools (which might have to start sooner to accommodate later bus schedules for middle and high schools), effects on parents’ workdays and after-school activities. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year.

Bill status: Assembly Appropriations Committee

Setting goal for K-12 funding

Long-term school funding goals (AB 39)

Bill author(s): Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance

What it would do: AB 39 would set the aspirational goal of raising the level of base funding under the Local Control Funding Formula, which provides the bulk of state funding for education, to the national average, based on a formula that factors in states’ costs of living. The bill would require an estimated $33 billion more in spending, according to a legislative analysis. Without an additional source of funding, the analysis said the target could be reached sometime in the 2030s.

Why it is important: Not since the enactment of Proposition 13 four decades ago has California school spending been among the nation’s top 10 states. It is now in the lower quarter when costs of living are factored in. This bill would lock in the funding formula as the primary source of state school funding. It would set target funding without a timeline or a new source of funding to achieve its goal.

Bill status: Senate Appropriations Committee

State construction bond

School facilities bond (AB 48)

Bill author(s): Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach

What it would do: AB 48 would put a $13 billion bond for new construction and renovation on the ballot in March 2020. It would put a second bond on the ballot two years later. Details — how to divvy up the money among preschool, K-12 and higher education — will be determined this month.

Why it is important: Funding from the last state facilities bond, passed in 2016, is either committed for other expenditures or already spent, leaving nothing to contribute to local districts’ construction efforts. The bill creates the opportunity to rewrite the distribution formula for the second bond to provide a bigger share for low-income, low-wealth districts.

Bill status: Senate Appropriations Committee

Ethnic studies

Ethnic studies requirement (AB 331)

Bill author(s): Jose Medina, D-Riverside

What it would do: AB 331 would add a semester-long high school course in ethnic studies as a graduation requirement, starting with the 2024-25 school year. About a dozen districts already have ethnic studies courses; some make it a mandatory.

Why it is important: There is general agreement that ethnic studies courses — examining the identity, struggles and achievements of racial and ethnic groups — can engage students and develop self-refection and critical thinking. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, saying such a course should be optional. A proposed model curriculum for ethnic studies is under review; the initial draft has drawn criticism that it is too ideological and slanted.

Bill status: Senate Appropriations Committee

Teacher maternity leave

Maternity leave for teachers (AB 500)

Bill author(s): Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego

What it would do: AB 500 would require school districts and community colleges to provide at least six weeks of paid maternity leave for teachers, other academic employees and classified employees. Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill last year.

Why it is important: Proponents, including employee unions, cite the lack of this paid benefit as another reason why school districts are having trouble recruiting teachers. Opponents, including groups representing school districts and administrators, cite costs estimated to be tens of millions of dollars per year.

Bill status: Senate Appropriations Committee

Charter schools

Growth controls, staff requirement (AB 1505)

Bill author(s): Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach

Bill author: What it would do: With amendments proposed by aides to Gov. Gavin Newsom, AB 1505 gives school boards the power to reject a charter school application based on duplication and saturation of charter schools. It also would sharply narrow grounds for appealing charter denials to the State Board of Education. It would set clearer criteria for renewing a charter school and it would require that charter schools hire credentialed teachers for all core academic classes.

Why it is important: The bill represented a major effort by O’Donnell and the California Teachers Association, a co-sponsor, to severely limit the growth of charter schools, which serve 1 out of 10 students in the state. O’Donnell said he would continue to try to reinsert tighter restrictions included in the original bill.

Bill status: Status: Senate Appropriations Committee

Ban authorizer run-arounds (AB 1507)

Bill author(s): Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita

What it would do: AB 1507 would eliminate the ability of a charter school to open up an operation in another district within the same county and for an online charter school to open a satellite operation in another district.

Why it is important: School districts have complained that neighboring districts have approved charter schools that they would have rejected in order to rake in oversight fees, in violation of state law. This would resolve the issue.

Bill status: Senate Education Committee

Expanded LCAP requirements (AB 967)

Bill author(s): Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita

What it would do: Charter schools currently must complete an annual Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, using the same template and doing the same community outreach as other districts. A charter school must post the LCAP on its website. AB 967 would require a charter’s authorizer — either the host district or county office of education — to review and approve the LCAP.

Why it’s important: Currently, there is no monitoring of a charter school’s LCAP to see if the school complies with state LCAP regulations. This would impose the same transparency requirements on charter schools that districts face. Charter schools argue requiring district review might lead to counterproductive interference. A legislative analysis cites tens of millions of dollars in new annual expenses statewide for authorizers and charter schools.

Bill status: Senate Appropriations Committee

11th grade SAT/ACT test option

Optional SAT/ACT 11th-grade tests

Bill author(s): Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach

What it would do: AB 751 would give districts the option of giving the SAT or ACT college entrance exams instead of the Smarter Balanced 11th-grade tests in math and English language arts. More than two dozen school districts already are paying to give the exams to all students, in addition to the state-mandated Smarter Balanced tests. The federal government would have to sign off on the use of a multi-test option for an 11th-grade school accountability measure.

Why it’s important: Proponents, who include statewide groups representing administrators and school boards, argue that SAT or ACT for all encourages students to focus early on college. They say the free additional test prep programs, such as the PSAT exam starting in 9th grade, mitigate advantages of private tutoring that only wealthy students can afford. In vetoing an identical bill last year, former Gov. Brown said it was premature to switch while the University of California reconsiders whether to require the ACT or SAT for admissions. A year later, there’s still no word from UC. Equity groups including Education Trust-West, which favor eliminating the SAT/ACT requirement, also oppose the bill.

Bill status: Senate Appropriations Committee

You’ll see them next year

Mental health support (AB 8)

Bill author(s): Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose

What it would do: AB 8 would require that by December 2024, all schools and charter schools employ a mental health professional for every 600 students or, for smaller schools, contracts for professional mental health services. Counties would be required to help fund services through Prop. 63, a tax voters passed in 2004.

Why it is important: Supporters say California ranks among the bottom 10 states in providing mental health care in schools at a time that principals and teachers say they are not equipped to handle students’ increasing mental health challenges.

Bill status: Author held and agreed to bring this back next year.

Targeting Teach for America (AB 221)

Bill author(s): Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens

What it would do: AB 221 would prohibit districts from placing teachers in low-income schools hired through third-party contractors unless the contract commits teachers to teaching at least five years. The original bill explicitly targeted the nonprofit Teach for America, which recruits recent college grads who commit to teaching only for two years in high-poverty schools, although many TFA teachers serve longer. The bill has been expanded to include other contractors.

Why it is important: Bill proponents say low-income students need experienced teachers, not novices earning their teaching credential while in the classroom full time. Teach for America has supplied thousands of teachers in California over the past two decades, including a high proportion of some charter school organizations’ teachers.

Bill status: Author held and agreed to bring this back next year.

Story originally published by EdSource.

John Fensterwald