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Bills on state-run STEM school and later school start time pass committees, move to full vote

Sarah Favot | September 1, 2017

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A state-run STEM school is one step closer to being established in downtown Los Angeles, and California middle and high schoolers are closer to getting state approval to sleep in.

The two education bills passed out of committees on Friday and will head to the floor of the Legislature. Both bills must be taken up by Sept. 15, the deadline to send legislation to the governor’s desk this session.

The bill establishing the STEM school, which would focus on teaching science, technology, engineering, and math to students from low-income and ethnically diverse communities, was hotly debated by the LA Unified school board, even though the school would not be under their control. The bill, AB 1217, is authored by state Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando, and co-sponsored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge. The school would serve 800 students in sixth through 12th grades and would be overseen by the state superintendent of public instruction and governed by a nonprofit organization, which has not been specified.

School board members George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson authored a resolution opposing the bill at last month’s board meeting. The resolution failed 4 to 3, highlighting the ideological divide between those who support reform and those who are supported by unions.

Unions vigorously oppose the bill. UTLA, the Los Angeles teacher union, held a rally at Bernstein STEM Academy this week to protest the school.

School board members against the bill and Superintendent Michelle King pointed to the 97 STEM programs available in LA Unified schools and said LA is already addressing the need for STEM education.

King, taking a rare political stance, said she opposed the bill after trying to speak to the bill’s authors to understand their reasons for proposing the school. She said she didn’t get a clear answer.

Even though school board President Ref Rodriguez was against McKenna’s and Schmerelson’s resolution, he said in an interview that he did have issues with the legislation, saying the accountability measures written into the bill are slim. He questioned why the school isn’t being proposed as a charter school.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is also opposed to the bill.

On the same day of the school board’s vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to support the legislation.

The bill also has the support of institutions like UCLA, Caltech, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

McKenna said the foundation should give money to boost existing programs.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill with amendments 5 to 0. It will head to the Senate floor.


Portantino also authored SB 328, which would prohibit middle and high schools from starting the regular school day before 8:30 a.m. After passing out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Friday, it will head to the Assembly floor for a vote.

Portantino said he was inspired to file the legislation by his own teenage daughter. He said in an interview this week that since she has started school later, mornings have been happier in his home, and he’s heard the same from his constituents.

In asking for support for the bill, Portantino has cited medical research that shows teenagers’ sleep cycles are delayed, meaning they naturally fall asleep later and sleep in. Medical and pediatric organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended that middle and high schools start later.

School districts that support the bill include Pasadena Unified, South Pasadena Unified, Manhattan Beach Unified, and Fresno Unified. The La Cañada Unified School Board voted this spring to push back the start time at La Cañada High to 8:30 a.m. starting this year.

LA Unified has piloted a later school start time this year at Los Angeles Academy Middle School, San Fernando Middle School, Stephen White Middle School, New Middle School Pathway, and Metropolitan Continuation High School.

About one-fifth of California’s schools start later than 8:30 a.m.

Charter schools would be exempt from the later start mandate.

The California School Boards Association opposes the bill, saying they are against a statewide mandate and that individual school boards should have the ability to determine if schools in their district should start later.

The bill passed the Senate in May, 25 to 13.

A RAND Corporation report released this week showed a later school start time could result in a $1.1 billion increase to the state’s economy after two years and $24.8 billion in 20 years based on an increase in student academic performance and a decline in traffic accidents caused by drowsy teenage drivers.

Disclosure: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation funds Spanish translation on LA School Report en Español.

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