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Newsom Signs Landmark Education Bills, Revolutionizing Tenets of Education System

Following a tumultuous school year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom and the State Legislature have enacted numerous policies designed to address learning loss and promote student representation for California’s 6.5 million k-12 students. More than 20 education-focused bills introduced by state legislators have been signed by the governor. Some of the Legislature’s notable bills are discussed below:

Assembly Bill 101 (Jose Medina – D-Riverside): This bill will require all high school students, starting in the 2029-2030 school year, to enroll in at least one semester of Ethnic Studies, either as an independent course or integrated with the social studies curriculum as directed by their district. School districts will have some authority in designing and implementing an Ethnic Studies curriculum as related to their student demographics, but shall have to reach specific guidelines delineated in the State Board of Education’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. 

Assembly Bill 824 (Rob Bonta – D-Alameda): AB824 is a landmark expansion to the previous Assembly Bill 261, which created and reformed the position of Student Board Member. This legislation authorizes an SBM position on county boards of education, creates new provisions supporting the roles and responsibilities of an SBM in local offices of education, and codifies regulations to support students.

Senate Bill 14 (Anthony Portantino – D-Flintridge): SB14 addresses the inherent issues in the California Education system regarding student mental health. Under the approved bill text, the State will now classify mental health as a valid basis for an excused absence, and requires the California Department of Education to summarily create an evidence-based program to educate local education agencies on youth mental and behavioral health issues. 

Senate Bill 224 (Anthony Portantino – D-Flintridge): In addition to the mental health provisions enumerated in SB14, this proposed legislation requires health courses in school districts to include material about mental health and wellness. This bill will affect all health courses in middle and high school rapidly after implementation.

In addition to the legislation signed by the Governor, California’s FY 2021-22 budget includes $120 billion specifically for educational initiatives. This includes $650 million allocated to public school districts for the procurement and distribution of nutritious food in two free school meals to every student, $150 million for the creation of new kitchen resources as well as associated training, and $3 billion in grants to provide community schools programs such as social services, family support, and mental health services to thousands of California schools.

Acknowledging the systemic issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the State budget also includes more than $20 billion explicitly proffered to support at-risk students across the state. Some key policies approved by the Governor include a $750 million combined grant to attract and retain teachers in high-needs and high-poverty schools in California; a $1.1 billion fund aimed at increasing the staff-to-student ratio in underserved schools to be spent on Counselors, Teachers, Nurses, and Special Education Teachers. The State Government will also begin spending $2.7 Billion to provide universal Preschool to all four year olds in the state starting in the 2025-26 school year.

Educators and Education Advocates across the state of California have commended these measures, noting the positive effects of these policy issues. Numerous California elected officials, such as Secretary of State Shirley Weber, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Postsecondary Educators at the Universities of California have commended these measures for increasing the quality of education in the state for years to come.

Benjamin Salop serves as the Managing Editor for the Scribe Student Newspaper, as well as a contributor focusing on education policy and local news.

Note: Benjamin was one of the chief student advocates for SB742 and AB101 among other bills.

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