In summary

A look at mental illness through the lens of families. New ethnic studies curriculum met with criticism. Jerry Brown’s school funding formula is graded.

Good morning, California.

“I think you should ask him that question.”—Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris in Sioux City, Iowa, declining to jump into the debate on whether Donald Trump is a white supremacist, answering a question from The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher.

PBS focuses on mental illness

CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons takes a look at California’s mental health system.

PBS NewsHour aired CalMatters producer Byrhonda Lyons’ video look at California’s mental health care system through the lens of families trying to help their loved ones. To watch it, please click here.

Mental health care is on the minds of Californians. 

  • Nearly one in six California adults experience a serious mental illness, the California Health Care Foundation reports.
  • 88% wish Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators would address the issue. 

To learn more about California’s broken mental health system, read CalMatters contributor Jocelyn Wiener’s series by clicking here.

Ethnic ‘studies’ blowback

CALmatters' education writer Ricardo Cano interviews California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on March 21, 2019, at the Commonwealth Club. Photo for CALmatters by Vicki Haddock
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond

A draft of a model ethnic studies curriculum posted by the California Department of Education is facing fire for leaning too far left and being biased against Jews, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Castillo reports.

The comment period closes on Aug. 15, and it has drawn hundreds, many of them focused on Arab-Israel issues.

The curriculum’s glossary includes definitions of Islamophobia and the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel but not anti-Semitism or the Holocaust.

  • Capitalism is defined: “Within Ethnic Studies, scholars are often very critical of the system of capitalism as research has shown that Native people and people of color are disproportionately exploited within the system.”

Cisheteropatriarchy is “a system of power that is based on the dominance of cisheterosexual men.”

Hxrstory, repeated throughout the draft curriculum, “is used to describe history written from a more gender-inclusive perspective. The ‘x’ is used to disrupt the often-rigid gender binarist approach to telling history.”

  • In 2016, former Assemblyman Luis Alejo, now a Monterey County supervisor, carried legislation to develop an ethnic studies curriculum. It passed overwhelmingly. 
  • This year, Assemblyman Jose Medina, a Riverside Democrat, is carrying a bill to mandate ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond didn’t have a hand in appointing the committee that drafted the proposal. But as the elected head of the Department of Education, Thurmond will be responsible for the final draft.

  • Thurmond spokesman Scott Roark: “We are recommending edits.”

Grading Brown’s school policy

Christopher Rogers talks to students in a Biology/Literature class at James Lick High School in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. Rogers is teaching under a emergency credential as he completes his multi-subject credential program through Loyola Marymount University. Due to teacher shortages, some schools are hiring teachers with emergency credentials to fill positions on their teaching staffs. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)
Teach for America fellow Christopher Rogers at James Lick High School in San Jose

Former Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to direct more funding toward disadvantaged students has resulted in substantially more money, lower class size and more teachers for public schools that serve kids from low-income families, a new study by the Public Policy Institute of California found.

But teachers at poorer schools generally are less experienced and lower paid than teachers in wealthier districts, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

California has narrowed its achievement gap between disadvantaged students and students whose families have greater means, though only marginally.

The PPIC report does not delve into the central question of how or whether the funding formula has helped elevate students’ learning outcomes in California. A pending state audit could shed more light on Brown’s signature education policy.

To watch a PPIC discussion on the funding formula, featuring Michael W. Kirst, the Brown-appointed state education board president and key architect of the funding policy, please click here.

Seeking to halt deforestation

Will California combat global deforestation?

California could become the first state to require that public purchases not contribute to deforestation in other countries under legislation pending in the state Senate, ProPublica, the investigative journalism organization, reports.

California would rely on companies to self-certify that their supply chains don’t contribute to tropical deforestation and would not actively investigate compliance under legislation by Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat.

But if contractors are found to have violated provisions of the bill, their state contracts could be voided and they could face fines of either $1,000 or 20% of the value of the product that was furnished.

  • Kalra: “California must have no part in purchasing commodities and products that contribute to deforestation.”

Why it matters: Large-scale production of goods known as “forest-risk commodities” — palm oil, soy, cattle, rubber, paper and timber — is one of the reasons the world is losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. Forest-risk commodities generally appear in widely used products, like paper, wood and food items.

Now, it will be legal

Outside Lands map for cannabis sales at the weekend festival

For the first time, adults will be able to smoke, eat and otherwise ingest marijuana legally at this weekend’s Outside Lands music festival at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, thanks to legislation signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

  • Alex Fang, of the Oakland cannabis firm Sublime, which will sell infused mints and freeze pops, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “It’s going to be a landmark moment for the end of prohibition.” 

A caveat: Tobacco and alcohol use will not be legal in the section cordoned off for weed consumption, under San Francisco rules and state law.

Why: The American Cancer Society was the lone notable opponent of the legislation, prompting the author, Democratic Assemblyman Bill Quirk of Hayward, to amend his bill to clarify that “consumption of alcohol or tobacco is not allowed on the premises.” The bill also bans cannabis smoking where tobacco smoking is prohibited.

Marijuana businesses, the League of California Cities, the city of Oakland and many others backed the bill.

Take a number: 89

Drug user with needle

Overdose deaths from fentanyl in San Francisco increased to 89 in 2018, a 150% increase, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, based on public health data. Fentanyl was the city’s leading cause of opioid overdose deaths.

  • 22 people died in San Francisco from fentanyl ODs in 2016.
  • Dr. Phillip Coffin, of the San Francisco Department of Public Health: “Unfortunately, there is no locality that can withstand the introduction of fentanyl without some increase in mortality.”

Commentary at CalMatters

James C. Ramos, Democrat representing Assembly District 40: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s apology for California’s genocide against Native Americans reflects an understanding of the state’s true history. This apology should become a landmark moment in bringing resources, support and justice to the 700,000 Native Americans who make California their home.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.