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SBE Members Criticize Open Enrollment Act as "Flawed," But Advance Regs for Implementation

By Jeff Hudson - September 23, 2010

Last Thursday’s meeting of the State Board of Education included a lively discussion of the Open Enrollment Act (SB X5 4, by Sen. Gloria Romero) – with several SBE members making it clear they’d like to see aspects of the law changed, and soon.

The discussion focused on the controversial list of 1,000 schools that were initially described as “low performing.” Parents with children at those schools will have the opportunity to move their child to a higher performing school elsewhere in the state.

Because the Open Enrollment Act limits the number of a district’s schools that can go on the controversial list to ten percent of the schools in that district, quite a few schools with low Academic Performance Index rankings were effectively skipped, and other schools (in many cases with much higher API rankings, and in some cases an API ranking of over 800) were placed on the list.

Superintendent James Gibson of the Castaic Union School District in Los Angeles County urged the SBE to “consider clean-up regulations that reconsiders the ten percent cap (on the number of schools from a single district) and provides a waiver or field process” to remove schools with an 800-plus API from the list.

Another superintendent from Southern California told the SBE that the Open Enrollment Act was “midnight legislation,” and suggested that “unless the ten percent cap is removed, the list is meaningless . . . the Open Enrollment Act would be better served by sending it back to the legislature for improvement.”

Sherry Griffith, representing the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), urged the SBE to postpone action that would implement regulations related to the Open Enrollment Act, and suggested the SBE “send a letter to the legislature asking for reform of the law.”

Marguerite Noteware, representing the California School Boards Association (CSBA), also suggested “a waiver process or some sort of option for high achieving and high growth sites to opt off” the list.

Several SBE members concurred that changes to the law were in order. Ruth Bloom said “It’s just flawed, it doesn’t work for me.” Yvonne Chan said “I know it’s totally flawed. This thing is going to create major difficulties.” Ben Austin, who has previously sung the praises of the Romero legislation’s “parent trigger” provisions, agreed that that there were problems with the list of 1,000 schools “To have schools over 800 on the list is a reflection of an aspect of this law that I don’t think any of us can defend – it’s a deal that was made in the legislature. We need to fix it.”

Even SBE president Ted Mitchell, who tends to look on the sunny side of legislation relating to school reform, said the bill included some problems stemming from “the sausage-making process in Sacramento . . . The SBE ought to work with the legislature to think through some of the places where there are ‘logic holes’ in what came out of the machine, and work to clean this up.”

Despite this criticism, the SBE nonetheless continued the process of drawing up regulations that will implement the Open Enrollment Act’s controversial provisions.  Or as SBE member James Aschwanden put it when he made a motion, “I’m going to suggest that what we ought to do is proceed forward, send this out (for public comment), and let the chips fall.”

Last week’s three-day meeting of the SBE also included the swearing in of two new SBE members:

James Fang, 48, of San Francisco, has served on the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors since 1990. He has been the president of the Asian Week newspaper since 1995. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and the Hastings College of Law, and served as an aide to the late Congressman Philip Burton (who was a Democrat). Fang is a Republican.

Connor Cushman, 17, of Coto de Caza (a gated community in Orange County), is the SBE’s new student representative. Cushman is a senior at Tesoro High School. Since he has not yet turned 18, he cannot yet register to vote.

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.