California Assembly Passes Sweeping Education-Reform Measure

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Sacramento--With strong bipartisan support, the Democratic-dominated California legislature has sent to the Republican governor, George Deukmejian, an omnibus education bill that will set trends for the rest of the nation, its proponents believe.

Complex, Catch-all Bill

It is a complex, catch-all bill, and California educators are only now beginning to sort out provisions that range from tougher high-school graduation standards for students to a modified form of merit pay for teachers.

The education bill would provide an additional $800 million for elementary and secondary schools in the fiscal year that began on July 1--representing a 7-percent increase over last year's revenues from state and local sources combined--and another $1.9 billion in 1984-85. Most of the money would go into basic state aid to districts.

Governor Deukmejian has agreed to the first-year spending figure, but has indicated that he will use his veto power to cut $600 million from the second-year increase.

The Governor had originally proposed a $350-million increase in school funding for 1983-84.

Democrats countered with proposed boosts topping $1 billion, predicated on tax increases the Governor opposed.

The bill contains the teacher-employment changes demanded by the Governor, including a requirement that teachers enroll in continuing-education courses in order to keep their lifetime credentials and permission for financially strapped districts to lay off teachers in the summer.

"Mentor" Program for Teachers

For State Senator Gary Hart, a Santa Barbara Democrat and chief author of the bill, one of its key features is a provision to establish a ''mentor" program for teachers. Under the program, teachers would have the deciding voice in selecting colleagues they see as outstanding to work in curriculum development and as mentors for beginning instructors. For the additional duties, the mentors would receive a stipend of up to $4,000 annually.

"California is the first state that's really trying some version of merit pay," Mr. Hart said. "In a sense, it's an exciting experiment. I don't know if it's going to work, but it deserves a chance."

Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction, sees broad promise in the legislation. "It sets the stage for a takeoff in public schools," he said. "It gives the resources necessary so that the momentum at the local-school level can continue.

Leadership in Education Reform

"California, I think, now takes the leadership in education reform,'' he added. "Everybody is talking about it. We did it."

The bill, in some of its major provisions, would:

Re-establish statewide high-school-graduation requirements, absent in California since 1969, which will include three years of English, two of mathematics, two of science, three of social science, and one of fine arts or a foreign language. Curriculum goals would be set for students in each of the mandated courses;

Institute "Golden State" achievement tests for high-school seniors--similar to the Regents' examinations in New York State--to enable them to obtain honors at graduation;

Boost funds for textbooks in kindergarten through grade 8 and, for the first time, provide state funding for high-school texts;

Give fiscal incentives to school districts to extend the school year from 175 to 180 days and to lengthen the school day, beginning in 1984-85;

Require most new teachers to complete 150 hours of continuing education within each five-year period of service to retain their credentials;

Allow high schools to hire teacher trainees with bachelor's degrees, but not necessarily with graduate courses in education, provided that they pass basic-skills and subject-matter examinations, receive assistance from a "mentor" teacher, and engage in an individualized training program;

Increase beginning teachers' salaries by 30 percent over three years, to a minimum of $18,000 annually, adjusted for inflation;

Give school districts discretion to dismiss probationary teachers during the first two years, on the basis of district-determined standards;

Allow districts to lay off teachers as late as Aug. 15 if the districts receive less than a 2-percent increase in per-pupil revenue. The state's current deadlines for layoff notices occur in the spring;

Establish, beginning in 1984-85, specialized high schools in high technology and the performing arts to serve as models for other schools throughout the state;

Assure that every 10th-grade student receives an individual record review and appraisal of his or her educational options, in an effort to reduce the dropout rate;

Require the state board of education and the state superintendent of public instruction to review present English-language proficiency standards for allowing students to leave bilingual-education programs--standards seen by critics as being too high;

Provide for mandatory expulsion and suspension of students for serious violations--such as drug sales and weapons possession--and authorize more administrators to suspend students.

Vol. 02, Issue 39

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