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Local control trumps sleepy teens: California’s late-start bill couldn’t overcome opposition but may return next year

Sarah Favot | September 18, 2017

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A bill that would allow middle and high schoolers to sleep in later failed to gain legislative support and will be reconsidered next year.

The bill, SB 328 — a statewide prohibition against starting school before 8:30 a.m. for public middle and high schools — won only 26 of the 41 votes it needed in the Assembly late Thursday, after a vigorous debate that included concerns about local control and bus schedules.

One of the major amendments in the bill’s final stages was to include charter schools, a move some felt could be its death knell. The inclusion of charter schools drew the opposition of the California Charter Schools Association, which joined the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association in lobbying against the bill.

The California School Boards Association argued that school start time should be under the purview of local elected school boards, not the state Legislature.

But state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, who authored the bill, said Monday through a spokesman that the addition of charter schools into the bill was not its downfall. Instead, he said, “It was the unsubstantiated arguments put forth by the CSBA. As a public school supporter, this was disappointing.”

Charter schools are exempt from most state laws that govern traditional schools, so as the bill was originally written, the schools would have been exempted. However, the Assembly Appropriations Committee amended the bill to include charter schools after a consultant concluded that if charter schools were exempt, they would have an unfair advantage over traditional schools when it came to enrollment.

Portantino maintained that scientific research on teenagers shows that they have sleep cycles that are later than adults which cause them to go to bed later and sleep in longer. He points to research and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical organizations that say teens should start school later. The average start time for middle and high schools in California is 8:07 a.m.

Even if the bill had made it to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, some questioned whether he would sign it as he has made local control a hallmark of his education policy agenda.

There was strong debate on the floor of the state Assembly late Thursday with members who spoke on both sides of the issue. The bill had bipartisan opposition.

Many members brought up the research in support of a later start time.

“There is no doubt that kids do much better and I think kids should be our priority,” said Assemblyman Bill Quirk D-Hayward.

Some assembly members who spoke against the bill were former school board members.

Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton, said it would cause problems for districts trying to figure out bus schedules and after-school and before-school activities.

“School bell schedules should be set at the local level, not the Sacramento level,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee.

“This will be killed by ignorance, it will be killed by fear,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego.

Several school districts were supportive of the bill. LA Unified has piloted a late start for a handful of middle schools this school year. La Canada Unified school board voted this spring to implement a late start at La Canada High School this year.

Portantino said he’s seen the benefits of a late start at his own house with his teenage daughter leading to happier mornings. And he’s heard the same from his constituents.

“Everything the research said would happen, happened immediately,” he said.

If the governor had signed the bill, it would have gone into effect for the 2020-21 school year.

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