Good morning, California.  

“We are committed to preventing underage use.”—Kevin Burns, chief executive of e-cigarette market leader Juul,  on Tuesday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it seized 1,000 pages of documents from the San Francisco-based firm.

Failing grades on CA's achievement gap

More than 3 million California students took this year's standardized tests.

It could take a generation for disadvantaged kids in California’s public schools to catch up academically with their better-off classmates—that’s how slowly test scores are improving, according to state data released Tuesday.

CliffsNotes: Standardized test scores in English and math edged up by about one percentage point in 2018, compared to last year, when they essentially flatlined, reports CALmatters’ Ricardo Cano.

  • More than 3 million California kids in grades 3-8 and 11 took the rigorous new tests, adopted four years ago to measure sweeping changes in curriculum and the way the state funds schools.
  • Not even half met or exceeded English standards, and only 39 percent passed the math portion of the computer-based test.
  • Eleventh-grade scores took such a nosedive in English that they erased all the gains for that category since 2015.
  • Latino, African American and low-income kids made modest gains, but pass rates for Asian, white and non-disadvantaged kids were roughly double, and in some cases even triple. Less than one black student in five met the math standards.

EdVoice CEO Bill Lucia: “At this rate, today’s children when they have grandchildren will be lucky if on average they’re all reading at grade level.”

Extra credit: The test score gap between poor and better off kids in California is among the worst in the nation, according to a collection of studies released last month by education experts at Stanford. One policy implication? Universal preschool.

To see test scores in your own district, click here.

One man’s quest to prevent drug abuse

Alana and Troy Pack

California physicians, starting this week, must by law check a database to make certain they are not over-prescribing drugs.

The goal: Save lives, as Bob Pack knows all too well.

The history: On Oct. 26, 2003, a Mercedes driven by a woman who got prescription pills from six different physicians jumped a sidewalk and killed Pack’s children, Troy, 10, and Alana, 7, and injured his wife, Carmen. Pack, a Danville tech entrepreneur, began a quest to require that doctors check records before prescribing such drugs as oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl.

  • In 2007, he got an audience with Attorney General Jerry Brown, who became a believer.
  • In 2012, his senator, Mark DeSaulnier, a Concord Democrat who’s now a congressman, carried a bill to charge doctors and pharmacists a few dollars each year to pay for the database, known as Controlled Substances Utilization Review and Evaluation System, CURES for short.

Physicians contended the database didn’t work and lobbied to slow implementation.

  • In 2014, Pack promoted an initiative to mandate the database. The initiative’s funders overreached by seeking to expand medical malpractice suits and require drug testing for doctors. It lost in a landslide.
  • In 2016, Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens carried legislation to require that the database be used. It was fully implemented Tuesday.

Pack: “I am happy and frustrated. … It is about time.”

Opioid overdoses kill 130 people a day, nationally, on average. In 2017,  they caused the deaths of 1,882 Californians.

Epilogue: Pack and his wife had another child, Noelle, 12. What happened 15 years ago “is always there.”

Brown's #MeToo bills serve both bosses and employees

Sexual harassment victims and the employers they sometimes sue were on Gov. Jerry Brown’s mind in his handling of legislation spawned by the #MeToo movement, CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports.

  • Brown put California at the forefront of women’s rights and clamping down on harassment, notably signing a requirement that publicly traded corporations based in California include at least one woman on their boards.
  • Among his noteworthy vetoes: A bill banning employers from imposing arbitration clauses on new employees. The California Chamber of Commerce dubbed it a “job killer” that would bury businesses in lawsuits.

There will be a new governor in 2019. If frontrunner Gavin Newsom wins, expect the person who knows him best to lobby for a signature:

Jennifer Siebel Newsom: “I’m not a policy person, but it sounds like this is good for women and families. He has a history of supporting and championing women and legislation that supports women and families.”

To dig deeper, please click here.

CA Democrats take a run at a GOP leader

Orange County Sen. Pat Bates

California Democrats have dumped $123,000 into a campaign to boost a first-time candidate to defeat state Senate Republican Leader Pat Bates.

Why Bates: Bates’ district in Orange and San Diego counties includes parts of three congressional districts in held by Republicans Mimi Walters, Dana Rohrabacher and Darrell Issa, who is stepping down. Democrats are running a major coordinated campaign to unseat the three, and then some.

  • The play is to energize Democratic voters who will back Bates’ challenger, newcomer Marggie Castellano.
  • Republicans suspect a feint to divert GOP resources away from the race to succeed state Sen. Anthony Cannella, a San Joaquin Valley Republican who is termed out. In that district, Democratic Assemblywoman Anna Caballero of Salinas is running against Madera County Supervisor Rod Poythress. Spending on that race is nearing $5 million.

Then there’s payback: Republicans led the successful recall in June of Democratic Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton. Senate Democrats would dearly like to even the score this November by unseating an incumbent.

Stakes: Republicans hold out no hope of taking control of the Legislature, but do want to prevent Democrats from gaining two-thirds majorities in the Senate and Assembly, the threshold for approving tax increases in California.

Commentary from CALmatters

Julie Rabinovitz: A federal proposal threatens California’s gains in reducing teen pregnancy. Elected leaders must push to ensure that all Californians, no matter their age, race, income, immigration status or insurance status, will have an equal opportunity to plan their families, achieve their dreams and build a better future for all.

Dan Walters: Jerry Brown’s famous “canoe theory” about politics, paddling left and then right, showed in the fate of more than 1,000 bills during the 16th and final year of his two-part governorship.

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See you tomorrow.