In summary

For the first time since the start of the century, fewer than 6 million kids are attending California public schools.

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“We just aren’t sure where they’ve gone.”

That comment from Barrett Snider of Capitol Advisors — a lobbying firm for school districts — came in response to sobering data released Monday by the state Department of Education: For the first time since the start of the century, fewer than 6 million students are attending California’s public schools, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports.

Statewide enrollment this year fell by more than 110,000 students to about 5.89 million, a 1.8% decline from last year — on top of the 2.6% drop notched during the first year of the pandemic.

  • But even after accounting for California’s slowing population growth and high cost of housing, education officials are struggling to explain where all the kids went: For the first time since at least 2014, charter school enrollment also fell — by a whopping 12,600 students. And although private school enrollment ticked up by 9,000 students — a 1.7% increase — that doesn’t account for most of the public school exodus, Joe reports.
  • And while kindergarten enrollment increased after a massive decline last year, first-grade enrollment enrollment dropped by 18,000 students — one of the steepest drops for a single grade level. That suggests that many students who were of kindergarten age in 2020 did not return to public schools for first grade.
  • Dwindling enrollment poses both financial and existential questions for schools and state lawmakers: “We should not only be concerned about the fiscal consequences of having less students, we need to question where the students are going and how their educational needs are being met,” Edgar Zazueta, the executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, told EdSource.

Indeed, the enrollment data is just the latest example of the myriad challenges facing California schools — and students — as they work to recover from the ravages of the pandemic.

In other education news: “School choice” will not be an option on California’s November ballot after two initiatives failed to collect enough signatures.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 8,513,771 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 88,557 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 73,272,145 vaccine doses, and 74.6% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Newsom’s gas proposal is in print

The prices for fuel at a gas station in Oakland on March 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
The prices for fuel at a gas station in Oakland on March 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to return to California today from his family vacation in Central and South America — and will likely be welcomed with questions about his plan to offer financial relief to Californians struggling with high gas prices. The Newsom administration on Friday published the bill language for the components of his $11 billion relief package, which includes rebates for car owners, at least three months of free public transit, a one-year pause on part of the diesel sales tax, and suspending July’s scheduled increase to California’s gas and diesel excise tax.

But Republican lawmakers weren’t impressed with the “half-baked” bills, pointing out that Newsom’s rebate proposal doesn’t specify how much money car owners will receive. Other areas of complaint: Although the bill proposes sending rebates only to Californians whose cars are worth less than a certain amount of money, it doesn’t specify that value. And it permits the state to enter into a no-bid contract with a third-party vendor to distribute the rebates — prompting the GOP lawmakers to cite dubious no-bid contracts signed amid the pandemic. 

  • H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Newsom’s Department of Finance, told me: “The governor’s proposal is still for a $400 rebate per registered vehicle. That hasn’t changed. The reason that is silent in the bill language is because the administration understands that this is an area where the Legislature wants to have some input and some further discussion. … The same, for that matter, goes for … the vehicle valuation.”
  • And as for the no-bid contract, Palmer said: “The sole reason that that’s in there is solely a matter of speed and timing and being able to get relief out there to people as fast as possible.”
  • Palmer also said the administration is hoping to reach an agreement with legislators on the package before May 15, when Newsom is set to unveil his revised budget. Palmer also noted that lawmakers would need to pass the diesel sales tax pause by April 30 and the gas excise tax pause by May 1 in order to change those rates by July 1 as proposed.

2. California environmental updates

The sun peaks through the smokey skies from the Camp Fire and a PG&E transmission line November 12, 2018, three miles west of Pulga, Calif. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group
The sun peeks through smoky skies from the Camp Fire and a PG&E transmission line on Nov. 12, 2018. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

Monday was a day of blockbuster environmental news in California:

  • PG&E and six county prosecutors announced a deal that will allow the beleaguered utility to avoid criminal charges for starting the 2019 Kincade Fire and the 2021 Dixie Fire — by paying more than $55 million over five years in penalties and contributions to local nonprofits, charities and educational organizations. PG&E will also hire as many as 200 employees and submit to five years of independent oversight in those counties and expedite claims for Dixie Fire victims. The district attorneys noted that the $55 million settlement — which will be paid by shareholders, not ratepayers — is much larger than what could have been secured under criminal convictions. Meanwhile, PG&E remains under federal investigation for its role in the Dixie Fire — the second-largest blaze in state history — and is facing criminal charges for causing the 2020 Zogg Fire.
  • In the latest sign of California’s punishing drought, federal officials slashed allocations for the Klamath Project, a complex system of waterways on the California-Oregon border that provides water to more than 1,000 farmers and ranchers, Native American tribes fighting to protect endangered fish and wildlife refuges that serve as critical habitat for migratory birds. Farmers will get roughly one-seventh and downstream salmon about half the amount of water they normally would, according to the Associated Press.
  • And with the state Legislature on spring recess until April 18, nearly a dozen lawmakers have headed to Iceland alongside representatives of energy companies, utilities and other interest groups on a trip sponsored by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, Politico reports. Last year, the group sponsored a trip to Portugal, where lawmakers studied offshore wind energy, explored opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and learned about the country’s drug decriminalization program.

3. Dahle reconfigures campaign donations

Sen. Brian Dahle on the senate floor on the first day of the 2020 legislative session. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
State Sen. Brian Dahle on the Senate floor on the first day of the 2020 legislative session. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

An update from CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff: After CalMatters raised questions last week about the legality of a series of large political donations to Republican gubernatorial hopeful and state Sen. Brian Dahle, his campaign said he would return the contributions and seek new ones to correct the error.

  • Dahle received three maximum contributions of $32,400 on March 2, all from companies registered to Marcos Gomez of El Dorado County. Dahle initially told CalMatters that Gomez shared ownership of the businesses with his two brothers, allowing them to cut three checks to his campaign. But under California law, contributions from entities owned by, and whose political giving is controlled by, the same people are counted together for purposes of campaign finance limits.
  • Following the Friday publication of CalMatters’ findings, Dahle spokesperson Josh Cook said that, upon further reflection, the Gomez brothers had decided to contribute individually to the campaign instead: “They figured out they should refund those checks and issue new ones personally, which they’re going to do.”
  • That’s good news for Dahle, as their donations account for about a fifth of what he has reported raising so far.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Dan’s column will resume April 18.

Newsom’s gas rebate plan would stymie state’s climate goals: The governor should be speeding up California’s transition to zero-emission technologies, not padding the coffers of profit-rich oil companies, argues Brandon Dawson, director of Sierra Club California.

Other things worth your time

A conversation with Gavin Newsom. // New York Times

Karen Bass and Rick Caruso in dead heat, Los Angeles mayoral poll finds. // Los Angeles Times

Op-ed: L.A. voters see political excellence as an import from D.C. // KCRW

S.F. environment director resigns as City Hall corruption scandal claims another top official. // San Francisco Standard

Latino lawmakers make these their priority bills. // Fresno Bee

New state government efforts to tackle California’s housing crisis. // Los Angeles Times

California golf course transformed into something even more luxe. // KTLA

California’s stagnant renter’s tax credit could soon increase. // Los Angeles Times

While an industry feeds on the destruction of rent control, help is on the way. // Capital & Main

Sacramento clears homeless encampment on Fair Oaks and Howe. Was it legal? // Sacramento Bee

Bay Area toll collectors are gone, so what happens to the tollbooths? Here’s the $77 million answer. // San Francisco Chronicle

Water, weed and racism: Why Asians feel targeted in this rural California county. // The Guardian

Boudin, Gascón accuse law firm of targeting immigrant-run businesses with fraudulent disability suits. // San Francisco Chronicle

Critics accuse Chesa Boudin of hiding data. His team says that’s ‘absurd.’ // San Francisco Standard

Gascón finds it’s still tough to prosecute police for fatal shootings despite changes in state law. // Daily News

Records show LBPD failed to properly document over 1,000 facial recognition searches. // Knock LA

Part-time college instructors want better pay. Here’s what could change in California. // Sacramento Bee

Struggling L.A. child care providers are still waiting on refunds for a bill the city never should have sent. // LAist

Chevron, union meet as California refinery strike enters third week. // Reuters

California refinery maintenance moved by strike could impact gas prices. // Bloomberg

San Francisco’s tourists are returning, but hotel workers mostly aren’t. // San Francisco Chronicle

California sees dramatic decline in child homicide victims. // California Healthline

New Oklahoma abortion law could mean more women coming to California in search of care. // San Francisco Chronicle

New Tenderloin site highlights challenge of connecting people to drug treatment and housing services. // KQED

San Francisco’s youngest drug overdose victim last year was 14. Her mother still doesn’t know what happened. // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento’s DJ Gio killed in Natomas-area shooting. // Sacramento Bee

Gilroy city councilwoman cited after deadly shooting at Halloween-weekend party. // Mercury News

This Bay Area city is trying a little birth control to keep geese in check. // Mercury News

See you tomorrow.

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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...