Legislation Update - 03/27/2010

Education Committee policy hearings begin next week. A topic of controversy will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. SB 1051 (Huff) will allow the emergency administration of the anti-seizure medication Diastat by trained volunteers in the absence of a school nurse. Similar to the controversy surrounding the administration of insulin, Diastat has raised concerns by school nurses about the safety of such administration while many parents are troubled by the inability to administer this lifesaving medication as quickly as needed.

The good budget news for schools this week was action by the Assembly Budget Committee on Education to reject the Governor’s major budget policy pieces that target funding for county offices of education and school district administration. The Committee rejected the administration’s plan to impose a $45 million cut to county offices of education. The panel also voted against a proposed $1.2 billion cut to school district revenue limits that had been targeted to central administration. Included in the action was the committee’s rejection of the governor’s plan to have counties consolidate services and to generate $300 million in savings by requiring districts to contract out more services. Caution: This does not mean that the $1.6 billion cut isn’t still on the table, but it’s clear that this targeting process will not be in play. Meanwhile the Senate President pro Tem has noted publicly that he believes education has taken our share of cuts and believes we should cut no further this year. Let’s hope that holds.

The federal MOE waiver issue continues to make waves. The waiver was submitted earlier this year in an effort to qualify for federal funding available for California schools from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. The governor’s January budget plan would now fall about $600 million below federal spending limits. Critics, including the Education Coalition and Education Management Group have argued that the Governor has used accounting gimmicks and other maneuvers to make the appearance that the state has met the spending requirements – a charge that the governor’s office disputed in a letter to federal officials sent Monday. Those entities and others, including Public Advocates, have sent follow-up letters to the federal Dept. of Education continuing to question the Governor’s reply and calling on Secretary Duncan to uphold the spirit of the law requiring states to fund education to at least last year’s levels.

The stakes are high. This is a debate that puts ALL of California’s stimulus funds, including those already received, at risk. Yet education leaders believe that waiver of the MOU requirement could potentially put another $2 billion of currently budgeted education funds at risk of the Governor’s sweep. We believe that, as painful as it is, the Dept. of Finance will find the additional $600 million needed for schools rather than send back $6 billion we’ve received in federal stimulus funds.

Race to the Top application number 2 is still on hold waiting for the feds to release the scoring from round 1 so they know what and where to approve. CTA is circulating information that California’s application lost significant points due to our low level of education funding. If so, it’s hard to imagine that another application would be more successful with the budget on the table today.

Assembly Committee changes were announced by newly sworn in Speaker John Perez. Among several changes, he reduced the membership of the Assembly Education Committee from 11 to 9 members by removing Assm. Joan Buchannan and Jose Solario from the panel. He also changed the Democratic alternate on the Budget Subcommittee on Education from Assm. Noreen Evans to Assm. Bob Blumenfield, who now also chairs the full Budget Committee.

In leadership positions he has appointed:

Assm. Fiona Ma - Speaker pro Tem
Assm. Isadore Hall - sst. Speaker pro Tem
Assm. Charles Calderon - Majority Floor Leader
Assm. Kevin De Leon - Asst. Majority Floor Leader
Assm. Mike Feuer - Majority Whip
Assm. Noreen Evans - Asst. Whip
Assm. Jerry Hill - Democratic Caucus Chair
Assm. Nancy Skinner - Rules Committee Chair

Perez also appointed two Republicans as chairmen. Assemblyman Paul Cook will chair the Veterans Affairs Committee and Cameron Smyth will head the Local Government panel.

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