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Political Landscape:

State works toward school funds

October 02, 2009

Lawmakers continued work this week on reforming some of the state’s education laws to allow California to qualify for $4.5 billion in competitive federal stimulus grants.

Federal officials administering the new Race to the Top stimulus fund believe the state does not meet the competition’s criteria.

In order to qualify, California would need to improve flexibility for students in low-performing schools, increase accountability for teachers, improve transparency and better coordinate the use of electronic data systems to track students’ academic progress, state and federal officials say.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called on lawmakers to clear any legislative hurdles blocking the state’s qualification for the funds and declared a special session last month to solve the problem.

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The increased urgency on educational reforms helped push the Legislature to approve a bill Tuesday that will extend the state’s “District of Choice” law, which allows school districts to open their campuses to any student who wishes to enroll in classes there, regardless of where they live or how they have fared academically.

Senate Bill 680, co-written by Republican Sen. Bob Huff and Democratic Sen. Gloria Romero, will allow more than 5,000 students currently participating in the program to continue attending schools outside their home districts, according to the senators.

“The program brings a market mentality to the public education system,” Huff said in a statement. “When schools know parents can leave, it puts healthy pressure on them to perform their best and serve parents like a business serves a client.”

The Legislature cleared another education bill this week that requires state education-related bodies to broadcast their meetings online or on television.

Under Senate Bill 312, the State Board of Education and the State Allocation Board would have to initiate the broadcasts.

Schwarzenegger issued an executive order in 2006, calling for the two bodies to transmit their meetings over the Internet, but only one meeting was ever broadcast, according to Romero.

“The people of California have a right to know what their government is doing, and we must use available technology to let the people participate in public meetings,” Romero said in a statement. “The next step might be to use technology to enable public comment from remote locations.”

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