Big Donors Getting More Involved, Division Among Democrats

Next Election Could Feature a Tug-of-War on Education

By Lauren Rosenhall, CALmatters - Rep: June 19, 2017

Sandra Lowe reminisced about the good old days as she addressed a roomful of Democratic activists at the California party’s annual convention during May in Sacramento. It used to be, the teachers union leader told the crowd, that it didn’t take much to win a school board race: a short statement in the election handbook, a little money for some mail and the shoe-leather to knock on doors and talk to voters.

Now, Lowe said, things are different. Wealthy donors have put big money into shaking up public education by backing candidates willing to challenge union orthodoxy. And the impact they had this month on the school board race in Los Angeles – ousting a union-backed incumbent and electing a new majority that favors charter schools – is likely to reverberate across California.

“It’s not just an L.A. situation,” said Lowe, a California Teachers Association consultant. “This is going to happen everywhere.”...

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CDE Releases First California Schools Mobile App

June 19, 2017

The California Department of Education’s (CDE) first mobile application, offers detailed information about California’s 10,000 public schools, was released on June 5.

The CA Schools mobile app, developed in-house by the CDE and available for iOS and Android systems, lets users locate nearby schools based on their current location and provides a wealth of details, including contacts and directions, demographics, test scores, and a school’s California School Dashboard profile page.

“Never before have we put so much school information literally in the hands of our students, parents, and community members and made the information so accessible and user-friendly,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Torlakson said. “Home buyers can check out schools in their prospective neighborhoods. Parents heading to a child’s away game can map directions to the host school. There are all kinds of potential uses.”...

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Private School Vouchers: Why They Are Problematic

By Jonathan Kaplan, California Budget and Policy Center - Rep: June 5, 2017

President Trump’s support for private school vouchers has prompted a growing interest in what K-12 school vouchers are, how they work, and the issues they raise. Traditional school vouchers are directly funded by states to help parents pay tuition costs for their children to attend private school, which may include religious private schools. At first glance, it is unclear how federal policies that promote private school vouchers would work at the state level and whether Californians would support them. A recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) survey found that a majority of Californians – 60 percent – are in favor of providing parents tax-funded vouchers to send their children to K-12 private schools, including those that are religiously affiliated. However, California voters overwhelmingly rejected two state ballot measures in 1993 and 2000 that proposed state funding for vouchers to pay for education at private schools...

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Torlakson Announces Release of Draft ESSA State Plan, Invites Public Comment

June 5, 2017

On May 22, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced the release of California’s draft Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan, and invited public comment.

ESSA is the new federal law passed in December 2015 that governs U.S. education policy for kindergarten through grade twelve. States are required to submit plans to the U.S. Department of Education that describe how they will meet various federal goals.

California released its draft State Plan online at the California Department of Education’s (CDE) Draft ESSA State Plan Public Comment Toolkit Web page...

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Torlakson Opposes Potential Federal Medicaid Cuts for School-based Health Services

May 22, 2017

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said on May 11 that he sent two U.S. Senators a letter announcing his opposition to changes proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives in the American Health Care Act that could endanger funding for school-based health services.

The bill includes a per-state cap on spending for Medicaid, the federal program that funds health care for low-income people and families, and is referred to as Medi-Cal in California. The proposed funding limits mean states will have less money to support the benefits and services outlined in their Medicaid plans, including assistance for Medicaid-eligible children who receive health care at schools.

School-based services include medical supplies such as feeding tubes for disabled children, vision and hearing screenings, and funding for school health aides...

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Handful of Rich School-Choice Donors Spend Big in California

By Sophia Bollag, Associated Press - May 22, 2017

Much of the funding for California’s pro-school choice groups and candidates comes from a handful of very wealthy donors, including the founders of Netflix and The Gap and children of Wal-Mart creator Sam Walton.

An Associated Press analysis of top donors to school-choice ballot measure campaigns around the country found 48 individuals and couples provided most of the reported contributions to those initiatives since 2000. Some of those top donors are major backers of pro-school choice candidates in California.

In the past, California teachers unions have spent big to defeat high-profile school choice candidates. Last year, several state legislative candidates backed by school choice advocates beat union-backed candidates. Looking ahead to 2018, some of the most active school choice donors are already contributing to pro-charter candidates for governor and state schools chief...

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Kimberly Tarvin Appointed as Director of CDE’s Audits and Investigations Division

May 22, 2017

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today the appointment of Kimberly Tarvin as the new Director of the Audits and Investigations Division at the California Department of Education. She began her assignment May 8, 2017.

A Certified Public Accountant, Tarvin brings more than two decades of auditing and management experience to her new role. She spent the past 20 years working for the California Department of Finance’s Office of State Audits and Investigations leading and managing various audit teams and other department-wide projects. At the CDE, Tarvin will oversee internal, external, and investigative audits to ensure compliance with federal and state programs.

“Kimberly is a veteran leader whose auditing experience and expertise is second to none,” Torlakson said. “I am delighted to welcome her to the California Department of Education.”...

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Researchers: LCFF Has Strong Support, But Implementation Still “a Work in Progress”

May 8, 2017

The California law that simplified how education dollars are allocated across the state, vastly expanded local fiscal control, and altered education governance is helping some school districts spend money more strategically and target supplemental support to low-income students, English Learners, and foster youth, according to a new report released on April 28 by the Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative (LCFFRC), a group of California education researchers from various organizations and institutions who have been studying LCFF implementation for three years.

The report – the third in a series of studies and based on eight in-depth case studies of districts mirroring California’s demographic and geographic diversity – also reveals that LCFF has been implemented unevenly in districts. Many districts lack organizational capacity to engage stakeholders or develop cohesive plans as the law intended, and there is not universal understanding of the equity purposes of the law, the report says...

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CDE: Updated School Planning Tool Available in Spanish

May 8, 2017

On April 28, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson thanked the Orange County Office of Education for preparing a new Spanish language translation of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) template, which will help students, parents and community members get more involved in school planning decisions.

The Legislature and Governor Brown in 2013 approved the landmark Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which changed how all California schools are funded, gave districts more resources and more flexibility in spending, and required them to work with their communities to create education plans.

The funding formula includes the LCAP to set goals, plan actions, and use available resources to meet those goals to improve student outcomes...

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Marshall Tuck, Tony Thurmond Promoting Their Campaigns for State Superintendent

May 8, 2017

The two declared candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction both drew attention to their policy positions during the month of April.

On April 27, candidate Marshall Tuck published an opinion piece in LA School Report, an advocacy-oriented online news site covering education and politics in Los Angeles. In the opinion piece, Tuck stressed that while he is a longtime advocate for non-profit charter schools, he opposes charter schools that do business on a for-profit basis. Tuck wrote:

“...While I know from experience that nonprofit public charter schools can offer opportunity and hope in some of our most underserved neighborhoods, I’ve also seen how for-profit schools fail to serve students’ best interests. Thanks in part to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, her home state of Michigan leads the nation in for-profit charter schools and provides many examples of the corrosive influence of the profit motive in managing public schools...

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