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An education hodgepodge

A bill that would attract federal school grants also includes too many disparate ideas to be practical.

November 04, 2009

If California schools want a piece of $4.2 million in new federal education grants, they'll have to make some changes. Legislation by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and several coauthors would pave the way for those changes, but the bill is so awkwardly constructed at this point, with so many unnecessary and possibly harmful additions, that it doesn't deserve the fast-track passage Romero is seeking.

The bill moves in the right direction in enacting common-sense reforms that were outlined by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan as requirements for states that want to compete for Race to the Top grants. The grants are intended to spur innovation at lackluster schools across the nation. One prerequisite: eliminating state limits on the number of charter schools that can be created. That's currently 100 per year in California. Romero's bill would lift the limit.

But from there, Romero goes off in her own direction with an unrelated proposal that would open enrollment throughout California's public schools. Children in low-performing schools could transfer to whatever school they wanted, in any district, whether or not those schools were open to taking more students, unless they could show they have no possible space. The Obama administration hasn't demanded any such change, and good public schools already have an incentive to welcome outside enrollment: They get more state money for each student. Legislation passed earlier this year will encourage more districts to admit students from outside their boundaries, but that's a decision each district should be free to make for itself.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 11, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 22 Editorial pages Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Education grants: A Nov. 4 editorial referred to California's attempts to get its share of $4.2 million in new federal education grants. The correct figure is $4.2 billion.

Another provision would shut down some underperforming schools and send the students to surrounding schools. It's true that districts have been too reluctant to completely revamp failing schools, and the state needs a mechanism to force their hands. But those schools should be reconstituted with new leadership and staff and an improvement plan -- or be handed to a charter operator -- rather than having their doors shut. This bill would force students into longer commutes to schools that, in Los Angeles Unified at least, already are crowded.

Romero has tossed a hodgepodge of disparate ideas into this bill, some good, some poorly thought out, and others that already have been achieved through previous legislation. As her bill goes to committee this week, it should be streamlined into a simple piece of legislation that accomplishes one aim: qualifying California schools for the federal funds they urgently need.

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