Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Emily Hoeven July 12, 2022
Presented by Health Net, California Water Service, Dairy Cares, and Agriculture Energy Consumers Association

Does Cal State hide Black graduation rates?

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If data can illuminate, it can also obscure.

That’s one of the main takeaways from CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn’s revealing investigation into gaps in graduation rates among ethnic and racial groups at California State University, the nation’s largest public university system that enrolls nearly half a million students.

If you were to look at Cal State’s marquee data tool charting its efforts to close those divides, you would think the 23-campus system has made progress. But that’s only because Cal State has lumped Black, Latino and Native American students into a single category of “underrepresented minorities,” Mikhail writes.

When Mikhail broke out the data for Black students, he discovered that the graduation rate gap has remained — and in some cases has even grown wider.

He found the graduation rate gap between Black students and those outside the underrepresented-minority category — which includes white and Asian students — is 20 percentage points, and has been that way for 15 years. 

Furthermore, Cal State’s graduation rate gap between Black and white students has actually increased slightly: 15 years ago, it was 21.9 percentage points. Today, it’s 22.2 percentage points.

Jeff Gold, Cal State’s interim associate vice president of student success, told Mikhail in a written statement that the system adopted the underrepresented minority metric (URM) in 2009 and built it into the 2025 goals of its graduation initiative that launched in 2015.

  • Gold: “Despite the problematic nature of the term ‘URM’ and the limitations of the underlying methodology, the CSU decided not to abandon this metric and/or change the goalposts midstream.”
  • That could put Cal State afoul of federal law, according to Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a civil rights legal group that has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. 
  • Saenz: “I would say as a matter of legal compliance with federal law, you should not be over-aggregating data like that.”

Gold also told Mikhail that individual Cal State campuses “regularly disaggregate student retention and graduation rate data by race, gender, ethnicity” and other descriptors.

But Mikhail found that nine of the 23 campuses either had no functioning graduation rate data tool, tools with outdated data or tools that didn’t reveal graduation rates by race or ethnicity.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 9,540,194 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 91,930 deaths (+0.1% 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 77,851,959 vaccine doses, and 71.4% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 Newsom affirms support for Biden

Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and President Joe Biden board Air Force One in Sacramento on Sept. 13, 2021. Photo by Clifford Oto, The Stockton Record via Reuters

With a whopping 64% of Democratic voters saying they would prefer their party choose another nominee over President Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential campaign, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday, rumblings about who might step in and fill the void are growing louder. But Gov. Gavin Newsom — who has sparked rumors that he might be eyeing a presidential run by castigating his own party for failing to stand up to Republicans and by airing campaign ads in Florida over Fourth of July — affirmed his support for the president in comments to CNN, referring to his strategy to defeat an attempted recall election last year.

  • Newsom: “The success of our recall was about unifying around our party and defining the opposition. We need to unify the Democratic Party and not destroy ourselves from within. We need to have our president’s back. But we also have to get on the field. He needs troops. He has to govern. Our job is to organize, and it’s to have his back.”
  • Newsom added: “It’s about us having his back, not taking back some wing of the party. It’s about everybody disabusing ourselves that we have the luxury of division from within.”

Yet Newsom himself may have stoked some of that division. Following the May publication of a draft U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion suggesting justices were poised to overturn the federal constitutional right to abortion — which they did a month laterNewsom asked, “Where the hell is my party? … Why aren’t we standing up more firmly, more resolutely? Why aren’t we calling out this out?” That didn’t seem to sit well with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who told CBS, “I have no idea why anybody would make that statement unless they were unaware of the fight that has been going on.”

Other Democrats have sounded notes of caution. Bakari Sellers, who’s close to Vice President Kamala Harris, told Politico, “I like what Newsom is doing, but I don’t want him to be Icarus and sometimes he gets too close to the sun.”

2 State issues update on aid-in-dying law

Photo by Kayoko Hayashi via iStock Photo

Nearly 800 terminally ill Californians requested and were prescribed an aid-in-dying drug in 2021, the largest total since a controversial state law went into effect in 2016 allowing eligible patients to get prescriptions for lethal drugs to end their own lives, according to a report published this month by the California Department of Public Health. Of the 772 people with a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug in 2021, 486 died after ingesting it and 130 died from their underlying illness or other causes, while the ingestion status of the remaining 194 people is unknown, according to the report. Fewer people died after taking the drugs than in 2020, when 495 of the 767 people prescribed medications passed away after taking them.

Other key takeaways:

  • Of the 486 people who died after taking the drug in 2021, nearly 92% were in hospice or receiving palliative care and about 86% were at least 60 years old.
  • Nearly 86% of those patients were white, 52% were male and 66% had cancer.
  • Since California’s End of Life Option Act went into effect in 2016, physicians have written prescriptions for 3,766 patients, 2,422 of whom have died after taking the medication.

Although California’s aid-in-dying law was contentious when it was first passed in 2015 — and was temporarily overturned by a judge — lawmakers last year overwhelmingly approved a bill to speed up the process for terminally ill patients seeking to end their lives, citing studies that found some died while waiting for their requests to be approved. But some religious and disability rights groups have raised concerns that fewer safeguards could result in more people — especially the poor, marginalized and disabled — being pressured to take their own lives or not having enough time to change their minds.

3 Monkeypox vaccine scarce in California

A health care worker prepares a monkeypox vaccine clinic in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on June 6, 2022. Photo by Christinne Muschi, Reuters

From CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang: Despite the federal government’s plans to increase the supply of monkeypox vaccine, California public health officials expect it will be limited throughout the summer, even as cases continue to climb. The Golden State had 148 confirmed and suspected cases as of Monday, up from just a few at the end of May. So far, approximately 15,000 vaccine doses have been shipped to 31 of California’s 58 counties, with the bulk sent to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Riverside, where outbreaks have occurred. As of last week, approximately 1,400 Californians had been immunized for monkeypox, according to state officials.

  • Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a briefing last week: “We’re likely to get another shipment, but it will be a relatively low number. The hope is sometime by late August there’s a lot more vaccine available for distribution.” 

The LGBTQ community has criticized the slow distribution of vaccines. Although monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, a majority of cases have occurred among gay and bisexual men.

Due to limited supply, vaccines are being prioritized for close contacts, laboratory workers conducting monkeypox testing and those who attended events where known outbreaks have occurred. Some counties with enough supply are also prioritizing gay and bisexual men, including Sacramento County where the first California case was identified.

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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As Los Angeles deteriorates, the city’s politicians are preoccupied with an internal power struggle over who will fill the seat of a city councilman under indictment for corruption.

New state park could help California answer climate change: Dos Rios State Park in Stanislaus County will recharge the region’s aquifers while capturing greenhouse gas twice as fast as mature Sierra Nevada forests, write Julie Rentner, president of River Partners, and Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat.

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Other things worth your time


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California fire officials and FBI are targeting illegal drones near wildfire emergencies. // CNN

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Successes, challenges mount as California launches organic waste recycling program. // Mercury News

California’s plan for ‘miraculous’ cures — at $49,000 per hour. // Capitol Weekly

Grand jury: Mental health failures are making Alameda County’s homeless crisis worse. // San Francisco Chronicle

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Despite uproar, few seek to use California’s new housing-density law. What’s stopping them? // San Francisco Chronicle

Will California churches build affordable housing ‘in God’s backyard’? // Sojourners

What’s life like in a 24/7 safe parking lot for homeless? ‘This isn’t an RV camp.’ // San Diego Union-Tribune

San Jose Unified extends contract with San Jose Police Department after plan to phase out police at schools. // Mercury News

Brooke Jenkins, San Francisco’s new district attorney, backs police plan to expand live surveillance. // San Francisco Standard

Gunfire at four Southern California 7-Elevens leaves 2 dead and 3 wounded. // Orange County Register

Murders in Los Angeles in first half of 2022 exceed last year’s highs. // Crosstown

Newsom recall leader funds recount of a California election that was not close. // Los Angeles Times

Ash Street settlement plan borrows money from streets and parks, could cost up to $207 million to repay. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Democratic-led states, including California, let their federal unemployment debt linger. // Wall Street Journal

L.A. stadium workers authorize strike ahead of All-Star week. // Associated Press

As California welcomes Ukrainian refugees, counties fall short on interpreters. // California Healthline

California doctor proposes floating abortion clinic in the Gulf of Mexico to bypass bans. // Associated Press

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