Bills are signed that could bring grants, school reform
California’s governor signed legislation this afternoon that will improve the state’s eligibility for $700 million in federal education grants and also set the course for future school-improvement efforts.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two bills at Bethune Middle School in Florence, which officials cited as an example of an improving school that serves the low-income minority students who stand to benefit most from the new laws.
In highlighting the reform, Schwarzenegger called particular attention to its most fought-over provisions.
One would make it easier for parents to enroll their children in a school district they don’t live within. Under the previous law, the exit doors of a failing school “might as well have been chained,” the governor said. Now, through open enrollment, “parents have the right to free their children from these under-performing schools, and that’s without the principal’s permission. Parents can now take their children out,” sending them “to other schools and even to other districts.”
Another contested element gives parents the legal right to launch major reforms at a low-performing school by collecting signatures representing 50% of the school’s current or potential future students. The Legislature capped the number of schools that parents could petition for change at 75.
“We today couple the responsibility with rights” for parents, said state senator and bill sponsor Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles). “We will never turn around our schools without parents being critical partners in this process.”
The bills were vigorously opposed by statewide teachers unions and other groups within the education establishment. They argued that it set in motion policies without sufficient funding -- even with the possible federal grants. They also took issue with some of the policies themselves.
-- Howard Blume