ON CAMPUS: From the interesting ideas pile - proposed legislation

naustin@modbee.comApril 2, 2013 

— The Dropout Reduction and Workforce Development Bond Act of 2013: Every year it seems someone puts forward another push for career-technical education. Those classes stem from the basic idea FFA had in 1917, giving classwork purpose and helping teens get real-world guidance and job skills.

This proposal, by state Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), focuses on financing that education. Specifically, how industry can help pay for education it values. The act provides three mechanisms: 1) Bonds that businesses can buy that would earn a competitive return, with contracts that measure performance by graduation rates and jobs – a direct investment in education.

2) Tax credits for business that partner with public schools – praise and publicity are nice, but here’s a payback that shareholders could enjoy, too.

3) Trust funds for career-focused programs at community colleges and school districts that can accept money from any source, including donations, employment training funds, loans and taxes. If this can cut the administrative load and red tape between funding and classroom, it would be a welcome thing.

The bill has been set for hearing April 24 by the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, one of many hurdles that could change it beyond all recognition. But the premise of giving the business world concrete ways to support what they want to see happen in schools could be a harbinger of the future.

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Budget Trailer bill: In his Local Control Funding Formula proposed for this year, Gov. Jerry Brown proposes giving local school boards freedom to do away with many things worth saving. That is the essence of a backlash to local control trailer bills, based on a very real fear that what’s thrown into the general fund pot could be sucked away into higher salaries, and hard-won programs could disappear.

For those with a teacher in the family, higher salaries after years of cuts would be welcome. For those trying to become teachers comes a warning that alternative training programs once protected would fall into the pot of programs that could be cut.

California Teacher Corps sees such a risk for the guaranteed $21.3 million now funding 70 alternative teacher preparation programs across the state, including one through the Stanislaus County Office of Education to train special education teachers.

In a twist, the proposal would in effect take local control away in Stanislaus County, where the county office has met the requirements for providing the internship-based credential but districts, which would get the funding instead, have not.

The alternative programs appeal to second-career teachers and far more males and minorities than traditional programs. In 2011, more than one-third of California school districts hired Teacher Corps teachers, according to the association. The internships help schools get highly motivated, well-supervised staff, and produce teachers more likely to remain in the profession.

There are more than 3,000 teachers currently in the pipeline, who could face higher costs if training program funding is re-directed. All of which are great reasons to keep such programs going. But not necessarily a great reason to maintain the political and prescriptive budgeting process that supports them now.

It would become a decision for local boards to make, another of the worthy programs that will have to compete for local support if local control comes to pass.

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Pupil Assessments: Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is supporting two bills to lower the number of state tests next spring.

Senate Bill 247, set for hearing by the Assembly Education Committee on April 10, would end state tests for second-graders, saving an estimated $2 million every year going forward. The second grade tests are not required under No Child Left Behind. The wisdom of testing 7-year-olds is debated, but some argue it helps prepare kids for third grade assessments.

Assembly Bill 484, waiting for hearing date before the Senate Education Committee, would suspend more than two dozen tests for one year, principally high school tests and eighth-grade history.

Torlakson estimates it would save $15 million for 2013-14, which he proposes go to developing the new tests needed to match the switch to common core teaching the following year.

My high schooler comments that’s not saving money, just spending it on more ways to torture students. So be it; better torture methods are needed.

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