Good morning, California. It’s Friday, November 19.

Equity vs. being “woke”

Goodbye, admissions tests to get into the University of California. Hello, social justice concepts in high school math classes.

The leaders of the nation’s premier public university system announced Thursday that UC won’t require any admissions tests for undergraduate applicants, a little more than a year after it stopped requiring SAT and ACT scores. UC nixed those exams amid criticism that they discriminated against low-income students of color and people with disabilities, and although the system considered requiring alternative tests, “there isn’t right now a test or an assessment that we feel comfortable using in our admissions process,” said Cecilia Estolano, chair of the UC Board of Regents.

The move — which will likely have national ripple effects — presents both opportunities and challenges for the UC. After eliminating the SAT/ACT requirement, UC this fall welcomed its most diverse class in history. But the loosened testing requirements also resulted in a massive influx of applications. A recent report to the UC Regents suggested the system could use artificial intelligence to help with the increased workload — but warned that could result in its own “adverse outcomes or unintended consequences,” CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports.

Meanwhile, California’s K-12 public education system is considering its own steps to achieve more equitable outcomes. In July, the state Board of Education is set to vote on a controversial proposal to overhaul California’s math framework — one that would push Algebra 1 back to ninth grade, de-emphasize calculus, apply social justice principles to math lessons, and replace the notion that some students are “naturally talented” with the “recognition that every student is on a growth pathway.” Some critics have denounced this as “woke math.”

As CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports, the framework is just a set of suggestions — school districts can follow as much or as little of it as they choose. Yet it’s set off a firestorm among teachers, parents and advocates as they wrangle over how to improve education in a state that ranks in the nation’s bottom quartile for eighth-grade math scores.

In other education news:

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,752,970 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 72,847 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 56,326,416 vaccine doses, and 66.9% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Kaiser braces for more strikes

A hospital employee in scrubs holds a sign during a protest over staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

Get ready for another day of strikes at Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California. Today, about 24,000 nurses and mental health clinicians are set to hit the picket line in support of a hospital engineers union that’s been on strike since Sept. 18. The planned sympathy strike comes a day after another 40,000 Kaiser health care workers walked off the job in solidarity with the engineers. “We consider an injury to one is an injury to all,” Heather Wright, a family planning clerk at Kaiser Santa Rosa, told the Mercury News.

Kaiser, which settled two contract disputes earlier this week, is still bargaining with the union representing its mental health clinicians. But it warned the other unions joining the sympathy strikes that “we believe in accordance with their contracts, these sympathy strikes are not protected by law.” Kaiser also suggested the engineers union is being unreasonable by asking for “much more — in some cases nearly two times more” than other unionized workforces. Stationary Engineers Local 39, however, said its members earn less than engineers who work for Sutter Health and other large providers. To keep facilities open and working during the strikes, Kaiser is flying in engineers from Southern California and calling on contingency staff for certain services.

In other employment news, California’s new jobless claims rose past 61,000 for the week ending Nov. 13, the federal government reported Thursday — ending the state’s three-week decline in new claims and accounting for nearly 26% of claims filed nationally. The state unemployment department also announced that approximately 100,000 Californians previously denied access to extra federal benefits may now be retroactively granted them.

2. California vaccine updates

People fill out forms before getting vaccinated at the Clínica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero in the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles, July 26, 2021. Photo by Damian Dovarganes, AP Photo
People fill out forms at the Clínica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero in Los Angeles on July 26, 2021. Photo by Damian Dovarganes, AP Photo

Thursday brought several key updates in California’s pandemic response:

  • A judge refused to put a hold on his order mandating vaccines for California prison guards while a federal court considers an appeal from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state prison guards union.
  • The state updated its MyTurn vaccine appointment system to clarify that essentially all adults can now receive a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • California’s workplace safety agency delayed a vote on whether to institute a vaccine-or-testing mandate for millions of workers, given that the federal version of the requirement is currently held up in court.
  • The city of Los Angeles placed 77 workers on unpaid leave for failing to comply with its vaccination requirement, and another 700 employees could join them in the next two weeks.
  • In a preview of what will likely be one of Sacramento’s biggest political battles next year, Democratic state lawmakers are fretting over whether to preserve personal belief exemptions in the student COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Some districts are warning that removing that exemption could result in thousands of students — particularly students of color — being shut out of in-person learning.
  • Los Angeles Unified, meanwhile, is preparing to relax its masking, testing and quarantining rules as student vaccination rates inch upward.

3. California water updates

Water pours from a pipe near Madera on June 10, 2021. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters

Amid California’s devastating drought — which federal scientists predicted Thursday will drag into a third year — the state remains far from meeting Newsom’s goal of slashing water use by 15%. Residents used just 3.9% less water in September compared to the same time last year, down from 5.1% savings in August, according to figures released this week by the State Water Resources Control Board. On Thursday, around 200 farmers and representatives from the agriculture, dairy and fishing industries were slated to gather outside the state Capitol to demand improved plans for “future water usage” that would “save our farms and our way of life.” But the state wants the agriculture industry to make changes of its own: On Thursday, the Department of Water Resources accused some of the largest and most powerful agricultural water suppliers in the San Joaquin Valley for drafting groundwater plans that fail to protect local communities’ drinking water supplies, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.

In other water-related news:

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CalMatters commentary

California can’t leave boat owners in the lurch: If the state is going to ask commercial boat owners to go zero-emission, it needs to help us overcome the very real financial challenges we face, writes Maggie McDonogh, owner-operator of the Angel Island Ferry.

Other things worth your time

From Alabama to California, a trip along the broken supply chain. // Los Angeles Times

Activists protest $1.2 billion Capitol renovation. // Sacramento Bee

‘You don’t mess with him’: How a housing advocate wields power by funding ballot measures. // San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area home prices: From $15,000 to $2 million in two generations. // Mercury News

California holds 70% of the priciest U.S. housing ZIP Codes. // Los Angeles Times

Roseville water official faces felony counts of fund misuse. // Sacramento Bee

How some California emergency rooms are working to stem the overdose crisis. // KQED

‘A drinking club with a charity problem’: How a launchpad for young leaders enabled a culture of sexual violence. // San Francisco Chronicle

Wine’s most prestigious group moves to expel six master sommeliers after sexual misconduct investigation. // San Francisco Chronicle

CalPERS retirees face pension clawback over consulting work. // Sacramento Bee

Santa Ana to deliver $300 pre-paid cards to 20,000 households using stimulus money. // Orange County Register

San Diego’s landfills are leaking planet-warming methane. // Voice of San Diego

Biden borrows from California environmental justice tactics. // Los Angeles Times

See you Monday.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...