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Panel Votes to Cut Money for State Education Board

Assembly members seek to slash $1.6 million for staff members and to allow schools to spend government funds on unapproved texts.

April 19, 2006|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

A state Assembly budget panel moved Tuesday to strip funding from the state Board of Education and to allow school districts broader discretion in buying textbooks for students.

The action, led by the Assembly's caucus of Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander and African American legislators, comes a day after a divided board voted to adopt new textbook guidelines for elementary and middle schools that detractors contend are ineffective for students who speak little or no English.

Board staff members and advocates for English learners had been negotiating for months to find common ground but had been unable to agree on how much leeway school districts should have to tailor reading curriculum for their diverse student populations.

Tuesday's motions in the budget subcommittee on education were passed on a 4-2 party line vote and will be up for reconsideration next week before moving to the full budget committee as part of the May budget revision.

One motion would delete $1.6 million in state funding for the board's nine staff members. The other would allow school districts to use state instructional funds -- about $400 million in this year's budget -- to purchase materials not on the state-approved list.

A petition sent last month to Board of Education President Glee Johnson, state Supt. Jack O'Connell and state Secretary of Education Alan Bersin and signed by 32 legislators threatened to remove staff funding from the Board of Education and the Curriculum Commission in the 2006-07 budget unless a compromise could be reached on textbook criteria and another reading issue.

Tuesday's action was a political shot across the bow.

"We feel this is a way to send a message to the state Board of Education that it needs to pay attention to the needs of English learners in the state," Assemblywoman Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said. "We have been trying for several months to talk to them in these meetings and in fact thought we were making some progress. But to our dismay, we found that the board was totally going to ignore the needs of these students, despite evidence that the achievement gap is increasing."

Neither Johnson nor the board's executive director, Roger Magyar, returned calls seeking comment on the legislative action. O'Connell has not taken a public position on the textbook issue.

Bersin, who is also a member of the Board of Education, voted against adopting the textbook guidelines.

He argued for a delay to gather more information on the merits of providing school districts with further options.

At Monday's board meeting, Magyar defended the board's efforts to reach a consensus.

"We have devoted more time to this issue than a new bicycle gets on Christmas morning," he told the packed meeting.

"We realize we're not addressing every concern, but I can honestly say that what we have adopted, when put into practice and implemented correctly, will be very successful in helping English learners."

Currently, districts are required to spend instructional funds on books, teaching guides and other materials from state-approved book publishers.

Supporters of the status quo contend that it ensures equity and one set of rigorous standards.

The state is in the process of setting criteria for publishers who will supply the books. Selections would be made in 2008 and would govern purchases through 2014.

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