Leaders of California's urban school districts issued a list of proposed education reforms Wednesday ranging from government-funded preschool to an overhaul of teacher training and full access to schools for illegal immigrants.
The unprecedented statement, which represents the urban agenda in school reform, was drawn up in a daylong session in Los Angeles attended by about 100 teachers, administrators, parents and political leaders in the state's large urban school districts.
"Urban education today is a very tough task for all of us," said Rudy Castruita, superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District and president of the Assn. of California Urban School Districts.
The group, made up of 17 districts, represents one-fourth of all California public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The districts serve half the California students living in poverty and half the students who speak little or no English.
The meeting Wednesday was part of a growing consensus among education, business and political leaders that Californians want their public schools to do better and would be willing to pay for improvements if presented with a credible strategy.
Shortly after voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have provided tax dollars for parents to spend on private school tuition, for example, Gov. Pete Wilson arranged for the head of a nationwide school policy advisory group, the Education Commission of the States, to help come up with a plan for improving public education.
Later this month, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) will convene a statewide education summit to evaluate public schools and propose solutions to their myriad problems.
The urban schools group will take the agenda fashioned Wednesday to the summit, to be held Feb. 15-16 in San Francisco. Castruita said he also expects the urban schools' proposals to provide a framework for other measures over the next five years.
"With this, the Legislature can see for the first time what urban educators agree on that needs to be done," he said.
Some of the proposals are costly, including bringing the amount California spends per child up to at least the national average, providing preschool for 4-year-olds and giving teachers more time for planning, consulting with colleagues and updating their skills.
Some of the reforms--such as eliminating most state and federal laws and regulations that apply to public schools and exacting stiffer penalties for crimes committed near schools--require approval by the Legislature or Congress.
Others promise to be highly controversial, including revamping the process for collective bargaining by teachers and ensuring that immigrant children and their families have full access to public education and get additional help with English lessons and preparation for citizenship.