Local school boards face off with CA leaders

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La July 24, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Southern California Gas Company and Earthjustice

Local school boards face off with CA leaders

During the 2022 campaign, CalMatters state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal wrote about how the state Republican Party — struggling to win statewide office in deep-blue California — decided to focus on local school boards with its “Parent Revolt” program

The GOP’s goal: To capitalize on parents’ anger over COVID-19 shutdowns and concerns about “critical race theory” and other “culture war” staples. 

The success — and consequences — of that strategy are now playing out.

Last fall, Sameea talked to Sonja Shaw who was then running for the Chino Valley Unified School District board in the Inland Empire to “preserve the rights of a parent.”

She won. And on Thursday night, as board president, she ran the meeting where she pushed a policy, similar to a bill blocked in the Legislature this year, to require district teachers and staff to notify parents if a student asks about gender change, changes their pronouns or otherwise identifies as LGBTQ.

State schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond showed up at the meeting to oppose the policy. He warned that the policy might be illegal and would “put our students at risk.”

When he hit the one-minute time limit for speakers, things got tense: Shaw cut off Thurmond’s mic and lectured him.  

  • Shaw: “We’re here because of people like you. You’re in Sacramento proposing things that pervert children … You’re not going to blackmail us.”

When Thurmond tried to respond, security guards escorted him out as many audience members cheered, a video on social media shows. Later on Twitter Thurmond — elected last November to four more years as the state’s top education official and a potential candidate for governor in 2026 — wasn’t backing down. 

  • Thurmond, in a tweet: “I don’t mind being thrown out of a board meeting by extremists. I can take the heat — it’s part of the job. What I can’t accept is the mistreatment of vulnerable students whose privacy is being taken away.”

(A First Amendment lawyer later told EdSource Thurmond’s ejection was unwarranted.)

Eventually, after four hours, the board passed the policy, though Attorney General Rob Bonta had also warned about potential violations of students’ privacy and rights. A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit that would have required the Chico Unified School District to adopt a similar policy.

The debate is far from over in Chino Valley.

While the Coalition for Parental Rights said it was “extremely pleased and proud” of Shaw for a “policy that acknowledges the important role parents play in the mental and emotional health of their children,” Equality California said it was “appalled and alarmed by the level of blatant homophobia and transphobia.” And Shaw’s stand has put her at odds with some parents, who are threatening to try to recall her from office.

Temecula school board backs down, sort of: Meanwhile, another Southern California school board has partly reversed course in the face of state pressure.

The Temecula Valley Unified School District board had banned elementary social studies textbooks over a mention of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk. In response, Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state leaders vowed to send the books and threatened a $1.5 million fine.

Friday night, Ed Source reports, the board approved the curriculum but also voted to exclude a chapter on civil rights, including the gay rights movement. The board president said he wasn’t buckling under Newsom but wanted to avoid legal liability.

In a statement, the governor said the district still faces a state civil rights investigation.

  • Newsom: “Demagogues who whitewash history, censor books, and perpetuate prejudice never succeed. Hate doesn’t belong in our classrooms.”

Training the next generation: CalMatters has eight summer interns who are working across the organization, including in editorial, photography, membership and development. Read more about this stellar group from our engagement team.


1 Who is waiting for rent relief

A tenants' rights group marches to the Los Angeles mayor's mansion to demonstrate for renter's rights on May 1, 2020. Photo by Ted Soqui, SIPA USA via AP Images
A tenants’ rights demonstrator in Los Angeles on May 1, 2020. Photo by Ted Soqui, SIPA USA via AP Images

From CalMatters’ housing reporter Ben Christopher:

More than 250,000 California renters, unable to make their rent during the height of the pandemic, applied to the state for assistance — only to have those applications denied or sit pending for months. 

Now, for the first time, we know a little bit more about who those tenants are.

On Friday, the California Housing and Community Development Department published a demographic and geographic breakdown of the applicants who were denied federal emergency rental assistance distributed by the state, along with a summary of all the renters who are still waiting for help — and the reason why they’re still waiting.

The new data comes courtesy of a legal settlement struck in late May between the agency and a coalition of tenant rights organizations.

  • Madeline Howard, staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty: “This is federal money that is being given out by the state, so I think it’s tremendously important that there be transparency about who is getting the funds and that it’s being distributed in a non-discriminatory way.”

Under the terms of the May 30 agreement, the agency agreed to flesh out its appeal process, better explain its denial decisions and start publishing monthly data summaries within 30 days.

Fifty-two days later, the first summary is up

  • 123,306 applications were denied: No racial or ethnic group appears to have been disproportionately denied compared to the overall applicant pool.
  • 143,391 applications are still pending: For 65%, the state is waiting on more information from the applicant. Another 28% are mid-appeal and only 1% of applicants have had their applications approved but haven’t yet received a check.

Jonathan Jager, an attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said he isn’t surprised a majority of pending applicants didn’t complete their applications.

  • Jager: “It was so hard to interpret the denial notices or the various requests from HCD, so of course people would sit on these tasks.”

Last month’s settlement is meant to simplify the process, but for many renters it may be too late, as the last remaining pandemic-era eviction bans are coming to an end across the state

On Saturday, Oakland’s moratorium came to an end. Renters in Los Angeles have been exempt from eviction over any rental debt accrued between March 2020 and Sept. 30, but that moratorium ends on Aug. 1. And Berkeley’s will end on Aug. 31.

2 Fighting meth with gift cards

Drug test cups at the Opiate Treatment Outpatient Program at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center on July 20, 2023. OTOP uses innovative methods like reward incentives to combat substance abuse and addiction. Photo by Mark Leong for CalMatters
Drug test cups at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on July 20, 2023. Photo by Mark Leong for CalMatters

Euphemistically it’s known as “contingency management.” In the real world, it’s paying people who are addicted to drugs to stay sober.

And as CalMatters’ homelessness policy reporter Marisa Kendall explains, the strategy is about to become more common in California. Known collectively as the Recovery Incentives Program, the state is launching pilot programs in 24 counties, including San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, to treat those addicted to methamphetamine or other stimulants.

Unlike opioid addiction, stimulant use disorder cannot be treated with medications. In 2021, 65% of drug-related deaths in the state involved cocaine, methamphetamine or other stimulants — up from 22% in 2011, according to the California Department of Health Care Services. And among unhoused people, amphetamine is the most common drug of choice compared to opioids.

To combat stimulant addiction, the statewide program will reward people for staying sober with gift cards — an approach that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has adopted for more than a decade. Since 2011 the department has treated more than 6,300 veterans and produced nearly 82,000 urine samples, of which more than 92% were negative for the targeted drug.

One program in California is already underway: In July, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital launched its six-month program, aiming to serve about 50 people. Clinicians will test participants once or twice a week and reward patients who test negative with a $10 gift card to a retailer, such as Walmart. Gift card amounts will gradually increase to a maximum of $26.50 per test, and participants can earn a maximum of $599 during the program. If they test positive, they get nothing.

Brad Shapiro, the medical director of the hospital’s Opiate Treatment Outpatient Program, told Marisa he believes the model works because the gift cards act as a reward, which the patient’s brain craves.

  • Shapiro: “It’s a little bit like winning something. It triggers that reward place in the brain that otherwise they would be turning to the drug for.”

Speaking of drug treatment: Gov. Newsom announced Friday he vetoed a bill on oversight of some private recovery centers that contract with government agencies. 

In his veto message, he said these sober living facilities aren’t subject to state licensing or certification, so Assembly Bill 1696 “may create confusion among people seeking recovery services from licensed or certified programs or treatment facilities.”

Besides the one veto, Newsom signed a batch of some three dozen bills as he determines the fate of proposals while the Legislature is on summer recess until Aug. 14.

3 Why some colleges do better at transfers

West Los Angeles College Campus in Culver City on July 17, 2023. Photo by Julie A Hotz for CalMatters
West Los Angeles College Campus in Culver City on July 17, 2023. Photo by Julie A Hotz for CalMatters

In 2017 California’s higher education system had a goal: Boost the annual number of students transferring from community colleges to the University of California and California State University from 89,000 to more than 120,000 by 2022. 

But only about 99,000 community college students transferred to a UC or Cal State in the 2020-21 academic year, writes CalMatters’ community college reporter Adam Echelman and data reporter Erica Yee.

There are several likely reasons why the state did not achieve its transfer goals. For one, California’s 1.8 million community college students are mostly low-income, first-generation students of color. These students, especially older students, often must balance work, family — and for some, even homelessness — while attending school. Among the community colleges with the lowest transfer rates, 60 percent are rural, and some are hours away from the nearest four-year institution.

A CalMatters analysis of the most recent data available also found that in 2021:

  • Of the California community college students who said they wanted to transfer to a four-year university, an average of only 9.9% went on to do so.
  • Students over the age of 50 were more than four times less likely to transfer than their peers between ages 20 and 24. 

In addition to impacting the individual lives of students, successful transfer rates affect funding for community colleges. In a letter to legislators, former interim Community College Chancellor Daisy Gonzales wrote in March that the UC and Cal State systems should be placed under equal scrutiny since they rejected more than enough students in fall 2020 to meet the community colleges system’s transfer goal. (And on Wednesday, the UC system once again voiced its opposition to an Assembly bill that would make it easier for college students to transfer to a UC school.)

Still, in light of the state’s recent audit of community college performance, a spokesperson for the chancellor’s office said the system will deliver a new transfer goal “in the coming weeks.”


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The Democratic Party is prone to spending money on problems while ignoring whether it works.

A U.S. Supreme Court case on immigration could help California set rules for social media, Jeffery Atik, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University, and Karl Manheim, a professor emeritus write.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

‘Ghost guns’ rising in California, attorney general reports // San Francisco Chronicle

California fast-tracks rules to protect stonecutters from horrible deaths // KQED

Local government workers can seek political donations, court rules // San Francisco Chronicle

How striking Hollywood creators and hotel housekeepers face similar obstacles // Capital & Main

Acting Labor chief may not help on Hollywood strikes back home // Los Angeles Times

Who will stand up for renters? Maybe the CA Legislature’s renters’ caucus // The New York Times

California wildfire crisis: Here’s how a robot could help // San Francisco Chronicle

Why aren’t solar panels on water canals more widespread? // AP News

CA aquifers took in 11 million gallons of water this year // The Sacramento Bee

Pain clinic chain to pay $11.4M to settle fraud claims // California Healthline

State appeals court rules that SF towing policy is illegal // San Francisco Chronicle

San Jose mayor accused of toxic work environment // San Jose Spotlight

Did California’s DMV kill its no-party voter registration buzz? // The Mercury News

Health system that almost saved Madera Hospital now wants to ‘extract every dollar.’ // California Healthline/Fresno Bee

See you tomorrow


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