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Bill to Bolster Lagging Schools Passes

Seven-year plan to spend about $3billion on low-ranked campuses goes to the governor. It aims to reduce class sizes and train teachers.

September 01, 2006|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

A plan to spend nearly $3 billion over the next seven years to reduce class sizes, improve teacher training and add counselors at California's lowest-performing schools was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for approval Thursday, marking the end of a bitter dispute between the governor and the state's largest teachers union.

The legislation settles a lawsuit filed against Schwarzenegger in 2005 by the California Teachers Assn. and state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell accusing the governor of reneging on a promise to repay schools money owed under Proposition 98, the school financing law.

Schwarzenegger worked with lawmakers and the union to craft the details and is likely to sign the measure, his office said.

The legislation, SB 1133 by state Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch), creates the Quality Education Investment Act and will target nearly 1 million students at 1,600 public schools in the lowest two ranks of the state's Academic Performance Index.

It is uncertain how much money will flow to schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state's largest.

"This can go very nicely with some of the innovations that" Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa envisions, Torlakson said, referring to legislation approved this week, supported by the mayor and opposed by the school district, that gives Villaraigosa partial control of city schools. "I've sat down with the mayor and also with [Board of Education President] Marlene Cantor, and I believe that, when the dust settles, a cooperative way to move forward will occur to help the lowest-achieving schools."

Research conducted by the teachers union found that 80% of students in the lowest-ranked schools qualify for the federal free or reduced-priced lunch program; that 43% of parents with students in the lowest-ranked schools did not graduate from high school; and that 88% of teachers are credentialed in the lowest ranked schools, compared with 95% at other schools.

The plan will:

* Maintain class size maximums at 20 in kindergarten to grade 3.

* Reduce class sizes to an average of 25 in grades 4 to 12.

* Provide a credentialed counselor for every 300 students in high school.

* Require schools to have highly qualified teachers in all core academic subjects by the end of the program's third year.

* Establish a state teacher quality index to ensure that average teaching experience at the schools equals or exceeds the district average.

* And provide training for staff and administrators.

Under the measure, O'Connell and the governor's secretary of education would jointly oversee its implementation.

"This important legislation is not a quick fix, which teachers know is not the answer," California Teachers Assn. President Barbara Kerr said in a statement. "It's really about creating a framework for lasting change for generations of students."

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