In summary

Graduation rates rise, but progress is uneven. Sanders defies party establishment with endorsement. Local GDP data shows growing inequality.

Good morning, California. Judy Lin here, filling in for Dan Morain, who is on assignment this week. Tomorrow is the 7th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

“It’s really good for old people like me. We shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel because we get distracted. We’re always thinking about things of the past, so we gotta be on a train.” – Former Gov. Jerry Brown, rallying support for high-speed rail during an environmental event commemorating 1 million solar roofs in California.

Graduation rates go up – with caveats

Public schools are making steady but uneven progress.

California’s graduation rates improved, and more students are ready for college and careers. At least that’s the top-line figure from the state’s latest school dashboard accountability system, according to CalMatters’ education reporter Ricardo Cano. The five-gradient, color-coded system is supposed to tell parents and the public how their schools are performing, and this year largely echoes earlier reports on state test scores.

  • “California public schools are making steady – albeit slow – progress in important areas. We are headed in the right direction,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, in a statement.

Wide disparities remain, though, reports Ed Source.

  • California schools fell behind on chronic absenteeism, defined as students who are absent more than 10% of the school year. It rose 1.1 percentage points to 12.1%.
  • State officials think chronic absences might have risen because of rising student homelessness and natural disasters – such as fires that’ve temporarily closed thousands of schools in recent years.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said schools and the state will use the dashboard’s data to drill down on student achievement gaps.

A Sanders endorsement is tested

Delegates at the California Democratic Convention in San Francisco snap selfies with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's once again seeking the party's nomination for president. Photo by Elizabeth Castillo for CALmatters
Bernie Sanders is again defying the party establishment.

Bernie Sanders endorsed a long-shot candidate in a Simi Valley congressional seat, parting ways with the party establishment.

Remind me:

  • Katie Hill, one of the most celebrated victors of the 2018 Democratic blue wave, stepped down in October after details of her affair with a campaign staffer and nude photos were published online.
  • California Democrats are rallying behind Christy Smith, a freshman assemblywoman, to fill Hill’s seat.

The party’s effort to clear the field was stymied when Cenk Uyger, the host of the anti-establishment left-wing YouTube show The Young Turks, announced he would be running, too. 

  • “I’m endorsing Cenk because I know he will serve ordinary people, not powerful special interests,” said the Democratic presidential candidate.
  • The Hollywood chapter of the National Organization for Women is urging Sanders to disavow Cenk for calling women genetically flawed.

Who has Smith’s back? Gov. Gavin Newsom, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both California senators and legislative leaders are backing Smith.

The biggest county gains … and losses

More evidence of California’s growing inequality? CalMatters reporter Jackie Botts dove into the latest local economic growth data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and found this tidbit.

The Golden State is home to the biggest gains and losses among counties with more than 500,000 people. The data measures gross domestic product, defined as the value of all goods and services produced in an economy.

  • Santa Clara County grew 10.2%. The information industry was the leading contributor to the county’s growth.
  • Kern County shrank 0.7%. Mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction were the leading contributors of the county’s shrinkage.

California leads with above-average growth at 4.3% compared with 2.9% nationally. Also worth noting, Los Angeles County is the most productive county in the country with a gross domestic product of $711 billion.

Read more from The California Divide collaboration.

Schwarzenegger, Brown honored

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Former Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown were in Clovis on Thursday to commemorate California’s achievement for installing more than 1 million solar roofs in homes and small businesses. For the achievement, they and former Sen. Kevin Murray, who authored the bill, were given solar roof panels.

  • “We can be very proud and show to the world that they don’t have to come up with a New Green Deal or anything new. They should just go and copy California. America should copy California. The world should copy California because this is where the action is,” Schwarzenegger said.

By the numbers, the solar roofs reduce enough pollution equal to:

  • 6 large natural gas power plants
  • 1 million cars

What’s next? To defend against an unreliable power grid, the California Solar & Storage Association, which represents the industry, and environmental activists will aim to install 1 million solar storage batteries. They point out that solar batteries can help homeowners, businesses and schools withstand widespread blackouts and offer a clean alternative to gas-fueled backup generators.

Commentary at CalMatters

Erica Costa, former Assembly Fellow: Differences between Republicans and Democrats permeate much of what occurs in the Capitol. But the California Assembly’s Fellowship Program can prepare people for meaningful careers in a highly charged partisan atmosphere, regardless of their party affiliation.

Jan Smutny-Jones, Independent Energy Producers Association: It is understandable why lawmakers are angry about PG&E’s failure to invest properly in its infrastructure as local communities have suffered greatly from power shutoffs and wildfires. It is wrong, however, to blame California’s world-leading renewable energy policies.


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Judy serves as hub editor of the California Divide project, a five-newsroom collaboration covering economic inequality. Prior to editing, she reported on state finance, workforce and economic issues. Her...