California confronts higher education issues, and Newsom is Iowa-bound

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Tackling higher ed woes

From left, incoming freshmen at San Jose State University walk through campus in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, July 25, 2019. Photo by Alison Yin for the Hechinger Report
San Jose State University is among the California institutions working to improve graduation rates. (Photo by Alison Yin)

California’s higher education has its problems, from low graduation rates to high cost of living.

But unlike many states, California is confronting stubborn problems that plague higher education nationwide and seem seldom to be solved.

And while spending by other states stagnates, California is one of only four states spending more on higher education now than before the Great Recession, as detailed by CalMatters’ Felicia Mello and the Hechinger Report’s Jon Marcus.

Among the seemingly intractable problems that California is confronting:

  • longer-than-expected amount of time it takes students to graduate
  • high dropout rates
  • insufficient financial aid and overly complex aid applications
  • courses that cost more than students will earn from what they learn
  • admissions policies that favor relatives of donors and alumni
  • community college credits that won’t transfer to four-year universities
  • Mello and Marcus: “Fueling the reforms and the funding behind them are a projected shortage of workers with the necessary degrees to fill the jobs of the future, a public backlash in response to budget cuts made during the recession, and a concern that the state had been abandoning its long tradition of high-quality, low-cost education.”

What’s ahead: Gov. Gavin Newsom is almost certain to propose a higher education funding boost in his 2020-21 budget to be released next month. And voters will get a say in March when they decide whether to approve a $15 billion education bond, much of it for higher ed.

To read Mello and Marcus’ full report, please click here.

Newsom should pack warm clothes

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris is campaigning for the White House as a "progressive prosecutor." Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)

Gov. Gavin Newsom intends to brave Iowa in December and stump on U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ behalf, despite brutal news accounts detailing her presidential campaign’s supposed collapse, and a high-profile defection.

  • The Washington Post reported on Thanksgiving that Harris’ “candidacy is now teetering, weighed down by indecision within her campaign, her limits as a candidate and dwindling funds.”
  • The New York Times followed: “She has proved to be an uneven campaigner who changes her message and tactics to little effect and has a staff torn into factions.”

No matter: Newsom, who like Harris emerged from San Francisco politics, intends to be in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Coralville on Dec. 14 and 15.

  • Strategist Dan Newman, who has advised Newsom and Harris, told AP’s Kathleen Ronayne: “They’re political siblings, and they understand each other far better than most because of the similarities of their trajectories. He’s also seen her counted out time and again.”

Meanwhile: The California Republican Party has sent a fund-raising pitch seemingly embracing an effort to recall Newsom. 

GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson said money raised would go to the party, not the recall backers, the Sacramento Bee reported.

A long shot: Qualifying a recall for the ballot could cost $10 million. In its most recent filing, the California Republican Party had $1.6 million in the bank, and many legislative seats to defend.

Ballmer notches a victory

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer in Sacramento, June 18, 2018

Billionaire Steve Ballmer and his L.A. Clippers won approval from the California Air Resources Board to build a $1.2 billion Inglewood arena, despite objections from New York Knicks owner James Dolan, whose Madison Square Garden owns the nearby Forum.

The goal: Complete Murphy’s Bowl (named for Ballmer’s dog) in time for the 2024 basketball season. 

To win air board approval, Ballmer agreed to spend tens of millions to make the arena a net-zero greenhouse gas emitter. 

The air board gained jurisdiction because 2018 legislation authorizing the arena required that it be net zero. On the day before Thanksgiving, the board issued a letter declaring Ballmer “will meet the GHG requirements,” assuming he follows through on the mitigation. 

Some steps:

  • planting 1,000 trees in Inglewood
  • installing solar arrays on the arena’s roof and possibly over parking lots
  • installing 330 electric vehicle chargers at the arena’s parking lot, and 1,000 residential EV charging stations in Inglewood
  • providing 10 electric vehicles plus two electric shuttle buses to the city of Inglewood

Elbows fly: Sen. Steven Bradford and Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who represent Inglewood, had accused the air board of subjecting the project to extra scrutiny because Inglewood is “comprised of black and brown residents.”

Final buzzer has yet to sound. Ballmer needs approval from the California Office of Planning and Research, then must issue an environmental impact report, and fend off inevitable lawsuits.

Money matters: Ballmer has spent $2.1 million on his team of Sacramento lobbyists since 2018.

Report: PG&E failed to inspect

Camp Fire destroyed Paradise and killed 85 people. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

For years, PG&E Corp. failed to adequately inspect and maintain the transmission line that sparked the deadly Camp Fire in 2018, California Public Utilities Commission investigators have found.

The 700-page report released Monday is sure to add to PG&E’s civil liability and perhaps fuel criminal investigations into the November 2018 fire that claimed 85 lives.

  • The San Francisco Chronicle: Crews examined the Caribou-Palermo transmission line from the ground and sky, but had not climbed the aging tower since 2001. Such an inspection might have revealed the presence of the worn equipment that ignited the Butte County fire.
  • The Wall Street Journal: Fire investigators previously determined that PG&E equipment started the Camp Fire. The new report goes well beyond earlier findings, alleging numerous serious violations of state rules for maintaining electric lines.

The failure to properly inspect the Caribou-Palermo line was part of a “pattern of inadequate inspection and maintenance of PG&E’s transmission facilities,” the report said.

Duncan Hunter to plead guilty

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter being sworn into Congress, alongside his wife.
Congressman Duncan Hunter being sworn into Congress, alongside his wife.

Dropping his claim that he was the target of a political witch hunt, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter is scheduled to appear in federal court today to plead guilty to campaign finance violations, and likely will relinquish the seat he has held for a decade, The San Diego Union Tribune reports.

Hunter, who will turn 43 on Saturday, and his wife, Margaret, were charged in August 2018 with 60 counts related to misuse of campaign contributions.

The couple spent campaign money on personal travel, private school tuition, and to fly their pet rabbit across the country. The congressman also is said to have spent campaign funds on various mistresses.

Mrs. Hunter pleaded guilty in June to a single count of conspiracy and agreed to testify against the congressman.

Hunter is a  Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and won a seat previously held by his father in 2009.

Republicans seeking to replace him include former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, former Congressman Darrell Issa and Sen. Brian Jones. Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter in 2018, also plans to run.

Commentary at CalMatters

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, California Coalition for Public Higher Education: As the state continues to improve higher education access and success, we must support Proposition 13 to provide the funding needed to revitalize aging facilities so that they will be safe places to learn and will have the capacity to meet the increasing number of students seeking higher education.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: The state has more than enough money to finance the 2020-21 budget, so the issue will be whether to save or spend a surplus. Schools will be clamoring for more aid.

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