New ed. bills address array of difficulties in CA

New ed. bills address array of difficulties in CA

(Calif.) With the new legislative session beginning, California lawmakers continue to chip away at stubborn issues plaguing homeless youth, preschool access and long-term student tracking.

One recently introduced bill aims to put a school construction bond measure before voters in 2020, while another would establish a single, statewide database to collect and store student data as children move from early education and into the workforce.

A third bill, AB 16, would require local educational agencies to identify all homeless students enrolled in their schools and report that number each year to the California Department of Education. The bill also calls for the CDE to hire additional liaisons to help LEAs better serve homeless youth.

“This is a problem we cannot ignore,” Assemblywoman Luz Rivas, D-Arleta, author of AB 16, said in a statement. “Funding new positions is essential if we are to better identify, assist, and deliver services for homeless families.”

Homelessness has long been linked to higher rates of absenteeism, as well as lower student achievement and graduation rates. Research has also shown that homeless youth have a higher risk of suffering significant mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Throughout the country, rates of homelessness among school-aged children have continued to climb. In Washington State, for instance, the latest data shows about one out of every 25 K-12 students is now living in a hotel, a car, a shelter, with friends, or may be doubled up with another family.

According to a report released last year by the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the largest increase in students experiencing homelessness was among those who are unsheltered, meaning they may be living in parks, abandoned buildings, cars, or on the streets. During the 2015-16 school year, there were 2,134 such students, but that number spiked in 2016-17, to 2,753 children–an increase of 29 percent in just one year.

Unsurprisingly, a less than stable living situation can have detrimental effects on a child’s education. Just last month, researchers at the University of Michigan found that homeless students had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism–meaning they missed 10 percent or more of the school year.

As is the case in many states, California schools have reported difficulty in identifying homeless students, especially if parents do not report their situation to school officials. Rivas said hiring additional coordinators at the state level to work with local liaisons could improve how schools identify and interact directly with homeless families.

Currently, she said, California only has two such coordinators, while other states with large student populations tend to have more. New York, for instance, has 12 homeless youth coordinators, while Texas has nine.

A second bill–AB 124 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento–would enact the Preschool Facilities Bond Act of 2020. If approved by voters, the bill would authorize the issuance of $500 million in bonds to build new preschool classrooms throughout the state and upgrade older classrooms.

The bill is part of a package of bills authored by McCarty that also aims to implement targeted universal preschool and address reimbursement rate reform across early childhood education programs.

“Preschool is a proven difference maker–breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty, addressing our education achievement gap and keeping kids out of our juvenile justice system,” McCarty said in a statement.

Another bill, SB 2 by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, would require the development of a Statewide Longitudinal Student Database that tracks students from the time they start school to the time they enter the workforce.

According to a report released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, the state’s current education data systems are fragmented, which prevents state and local policymakers from being able to answer even the most basic questions about whether or not financial investments are paying off or if the programs are effective.

That report came to the same conclusion as a prior report published by a team of scholars affiliated with Stanford University. In each case, researchers recommended the state establish a data system that connects K-12 schools to community colleges and four-year universities, and that it track the long-term education and employment outcomes of students. more