Gov. Gavin Newsom, a father of four, promised he’d put kids front and center in his first- year agenda — and the legislative year was good to K-12 Californians.
Updated Oct. 15, 2019
School kids can’t vote, but Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered for them in his first-year in office, signing laws to fix their crumbling classrooms, address the issue of school-lunch shaming and let them sleep later on school days, while boosting spending for K-12 schools and early childhood programs.
Though a high-profile battle over charter school rules drew most of the attention, hundreds of proposals were introduced this year with potential impact on public education. As with most legislation, only a fraction made it to Newsom’s desk.
High-profile bills to lower local parcel tax thresholds and prohibit schools from hiring teachers through third-party programs such as Teach For America fell short of passage, for instance. Newsom also vetoed some in the final days before the Oct. 13 signing deadline. Among them: proposals to mandate full-day kindergarten (because of the expense), to let high-school juniors take the SAT and ACT in place of the Smarter Balanced standardized testing (due to equity issues), and to subsidize Advanced Placement exam fees for low-income students (other subsidies already are available).
The most significant set of revisions to the state’s charter-school law in more than two decades capped this year’s list of new education laws, putting new curbs on a segment of public schools that has grown over time, particularly in cities, to enroll more than 600,000 California kids.
The new laws are expected to make it easier both for local school boards to deny new charters and for high-performing charter schools to stay open. Charter schools will have to operate within the boundaries of their authorizing districts, and charter school teachers will also have new credentialing requirements.
But that legislation — which followed a high-dollar election in which charter schools were a flashpoint between school reformers and unions anxious to slow the growth of the largely non-unionized sector — was only part of the picture.
Here are some other new California education laws to know:
Mandating late-start times for older students
The law: Senate Bill 328 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, Democrat from La Cañada Flintridge.
Responding to what supporters and physicians have deemed a public health crisis, California became the first in the nation to mandate later school start times for older students. Under the new law, which had been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, California high schools will be required to start their days no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. for middle schools.
SB 328, among the last batch of laws to be signed by the governor, had been one of the most hotly debated education proposals at the Legislature: While experts and advocates have pointed to a growing body of research that shows that later start times helps combat sleep deprivation among teens and help lead to bumps in student achievement, groups representing local school boards and teachers opposed the measure because it takes away the decision-making from school districts.
The new law will be phased in over three years and rural schools will be exempt from the law, though the proposal does not further specify which schools would be affected by exemptions. State analysts predicted that the new law could “potentially” add millions of dollars in extra costs for schools to implement later start times.
California’s charter school overhaul
The laws: Assembly Bill 1505 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Democrat from Long Beach, Assembly Bill 1507 by Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a Democrat from Santa Clarita, and Senate Bill 126 by Sen. Connie Leyva, Democrat from Chino.
After months of negotiations and heated debate, new rules are coming for California’s sector of publicly-funded, independently-operated charter schools. All charter teachers will be required to hold a state teaching credential, and local school boards have broader discretion in approving or denying charters, though charters can still appeal to counties and the state.
Charter schools also will be required to follow the same open-meeting laws as school districts under a proposal that was among the first bills Newsom signed as governor. And a loophole will close that had allowed so-called “far-flung charters” to operate far from the often-tiny school districts that had authorized — and were being paid to oversee — them.
No more willful defiance suspensions
The law: SB 419 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, Democrat from Berkeley.
Largely cheered by civil rights groups, SB 419 permanently bans California public schools from suspending students in first through fifth grades for willful defiance – a justification for suspension and expulsion that advocates for the bill characterize as too subjective and one that is disproportionately imposed on black students and LGBTQ youth.
Once implemented in the 2020-21 school year, the ban on willful defiance suspensions will be temporarily extended to students in sixth through eighth grade through 2025. The initial version of the bill had called for including high-school students in the temporary ban on willful defiance suspensions, but was amended before Newsom signed the bill.
Some large California districts, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, already prohibit willful defiance suspensions to some degree. And suspension rates for California schools have gone down significantly over the past decade as the state began to implement suspension curbs in 2015.
$15 billion state bond for schools and universities
The law: AB 48 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Democrat from Long Beach.
On March 3, voters will decide whether to approve a $15 billion state bond for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities after Newsom approved a proposal that amounts to the largest school construction bond in California’s history.
K-12 schools would reap the majority of the earmarked funds — $9 billion — and, unlike previous state bonds, this measure would prioritize school modernization projects over new construction. Community colleges and the state’s two public university systems, the California State University and University of California, each will receive $2 billion.
The proposal passed with near-unanimous support in the Legislature as supporters stressed urgency to provide more support for schools to modernize facilities. Researchers have estimated California’s school facilities needs would total $117 billion over the next decade.
Limiting contact in youth football
The law: AB 1 by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, Democrat from Elk Grove.
Youth football programs in California now are now limited to two full-contact practices per week amid an ongoing public debate over football safety and mounting concerns that have helped lead to significant dips in participation at the high-school level.
After successfully lobbying against a previous proposal that youth football advocates deemed too extreme because it would have outright banned tackle football at the youth level, a coalition of coaches and parents went on the offensive and mobilized behind AB 1.
Unionizing childcare workers
The law: AB 378 by Assemblywoman Monique Limón, Democrat from Santa Barbara.
Providers for children who receive state-subsidized care will now have the right to organize a union and bargain with the state. Advocates cheered the move because they believe it will help improve pay and working conditions for a profession that largely employs women of color.
Advocates point to this oft-cited research point as reason for more investments in preschool teachers and childcare providers: More than half of California’s early childhood workforce relies on public assistance.
Resources on domestic violence, sexual harassment
The laws: SB 316 by Sen. Susan Rubio, Democrat from West Covina, and AB 543 by Assemblywoman Christy Smith, Democrat from Santa Clarita.
Starting in October 2020, California high schools will be required to print the phone number for the national domestic violence hotline under SB 316. This follows another new law implemented this year that requires schools to print the number for a suicide prevention hotline on the student IDs for pupils in grades 7 through 12.
A separate new law, AB 543, will also require public high schools in the state to “prominently and conspicuously display” a poster of a district’s sexual harassment policy – including steps for reporting sexual harassment accusations – in every restroom and locker room at a school site.
LGBTQ training for California teachers
The law: AB 493 by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, Democrat from San Diego.
As part of the state’s broader push to improve student climate, the California Department of Education is required to create by next July resources that schools could use to train credentialed teachers and staff on how to support LGBTQ students.
Teachers would not be required to undergo specific training under one of the law’s amendments, but the text AB 493 nonetheless would “encourage” schools to use these resources to train teachers every two years.
Supporters of the law, who include State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, have said it is significant because LGBTQ students experience higher rates of bullying, harassment and discipline that can lead to negative academic outcomes. Though AB 493 is among several recently passed bills aimed toward improving inclusivity among California’s public schools, a recent report noted that local school districts have been inconsistently implementing these laws.
Stability for migrant students
The law: AB 1319 by Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, Democrat from Fresno.
California’s 100,000-plus migrant students will now be allowed to keep attending their “school of origin” as opposed to having to enroll in a new school in the event that their families move to a different residence during the school year.
Though school districts aren’t obligated to provide transportation under AB 1319, supporters of the new law say the provision is needed to help bring stability to a student demographic that research shows is more susceptible to mobility and its ensuing academic hardships.
More time for ethnic studies plan
The law: AB 114, a clean-up budget trailer bill for education.
Less a new law than a technical change to an existing one, AB 114 is nonetheless significant because it effectively pushes back the state’s timeline for adopting a model curriculum for ethnic studies by one year.
The deadline for the State Board of Education to adopt an ethnic studies curriculum under a 2016 law had been this spring. But state leaders, including the governor, supported the move to solicit more feedback following a wave of public criticism that a draft of the curriculum was anti-Semitic and too politically correct.
No more school lunch shaming
The law: SB 265 by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Democrat from Van Nuys.
SB 265 adds teeth to a 2017 law by making it explicitly illegal for California schools to withhold lunch from students who have outstanding school lunch debt.
California had already enacted a law, SB 250 in 2017, to address school-lunch shaming, but the bill’s author said SB 265 was a necessary addition because some schools still withhold lunches from students with unpaid lunch fees.
Clamping down on students’ smartphone use
The law: AB 272 by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, Democrat from Torrance.
Local school boards will now be allowed to ban or limit students’ use of smartphones while at school except under emergencies or specific circumstances, such as medical reasons. Though educators and experts note that smartphone use can be disruptive to classroom instruction, most of the state’s districts already have policies that address smartphones, according to the California School Boards Association.