SACRAMENTO — The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday approved major school-improvement legislation sponsored by state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig and carrying a first-year price tag of nearly $900 million.
Later, an estimated 1,500 parents, teachers and students held a rally on the Capitol steps as part of a statewide campaign organized by Honig to pressure Gov. George Deukmejian and the Legislature into providing more money for schools. Honig cheered the crowd on by reporting passage of his bill and proclaiming, "The letters and the phone calls and the organizational work are starting to pay off."
Honig's proposal, his major legislative initiative of the year, was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 7-2 vote.
The decidedly partisan nature of the issue was illustrated by the committee vote: Six Democrats and one Republican voted for the measure; both "no" votes were cast by Republicans.
The chilly reception by the GOP reflected the continuing battle between Honig and Deukmejian, who have been at odds since January when the school chief called the governor's education budget "a disaster." Deukmejian still has not taken an official position on Honig's legislative proposal, but he previously vetoed several elements of it when they were sent to him in separate bills.
The measure, among other things, would toughen teacher credentialing requirements, raise the pay for beginning teachers, expand summer school programs and provide school districts with big increases in financial aid, with special grants going to urban districts.
Deukmejian already has vetoed a summer school expansion package, as well as increased financial aid for urban districts.
Republican opponents at Wednesday's hearing claimed that Honig and the bill's Senate author, Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), bit off more than they could chew by putting together a complicated, 201-page bill that attacks a broad range of school problems, rather than zeroing in on one or two major issues.
State Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia), who cast one of the "no" votes, said, "There are some things I like about it, but some things I don't like about it."
Davis said Presley should "drop (the bill) on pavement, break it up into at least half a dozen pieces and then come back with them and we will discuss them one by one."
The hearing lasted 1 1/2 hours, but Democratic and Republican committee members seemed distracted by other legislative chores, some showing up for only a few minutes to cast a vote while others wandered in and out of the hearing room, missing much of the discussion. The hearing itself was cut off so quickly at the lunch hour that opponents of the bill were allowed only two minutes to testify, and then only at the insistence of Sen. Becky Morgan (R-Los Altos Hills).
Morgan cast the other "no" vote, calling her action "a protest" because of what she said was a rush to bring the bill to a vote. "I think the process has been short-circuited," she said.
The lawmaker said that by waiting until May to hold the first hearing on such a complicated bill, Honig may have jeopardized its chances of passage. "If we had gotten this in committee in March or April we might have been able to have an omnibus bill in one year. But as far as I'm concerned it has too many pieces," she said.
Despite their criticism, the Republicans said they were willing to discuss compromises as the bill winds its way through the Legislature.
An identical bill has been introduced in the Assembly. The Assembly Education Committee met Wednesday and heard testimony on the lower-house version, but no vote was taken.
Honig, after the Senate committee vote, expressed optimism about the bill's chances, saying he thought Republicans had expressed "some sympathy with what we are trying to accomplish."