By Joe W. Bowers Jr., California Black Media
During the final week before the Oct. 10 deadline for signing bills passed by the State Legislature this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 46 bills supporting public school and college education. Under his California Comeback Plan, the state budget invests more than ever before in public schools and colleges.
The full plan will cost $123.9 billion.
Newsom turned signing some of the bills into public events. On October 5, he was joined by members of the Legislature and local officials in Fresno for a bill signing ceremony that celebrated the state’s master plan for early education. The next day, at California State University, Northridge, he led a celebration of the master plan for higher education as he signed a number of bills.
At Sunset elementary school in Fresno, Newsom highlighted the California Comeback Plan’s Pre-K and K-12 education package that includes a framework to achieve universal transitional kindergarten by 2025. The plan reduces class sizes, cutting adult-to-child ratios down from 1 adult for every 24 children to an average of 1 adult for every 12 children.
The plan also invests $1.9 billion to seed college savings accounts beginning in first grade of up to $1,500 for 3.7 million current low-income students, English learners and foster and homeless youth.
“In California, we are committed to transforming our public schools to promote equity, inclusivity and opportunity for every student,” Newsom said before the bill signing commenced.
Among the officials joining Newsom at the Fresno elementary school were Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Assembly member Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.
“We know from research and from experience that the early years are critical to support a child’s learning and development. Universal Pre-K is California’s opportunity to ensure every child, regardless of background, race, zip code, immigration status or income level, gets the fair start they need and deserve on their path to success,” said Thurmond.
“I’m here to claim that this governor is the best governor in the history of California for early education,” McCarty told a crowded school library of spectators. “We are launching the largest Pre-K for all program through universal transitional kindergarten in the nation. Thank you, Governor Newsom for your unwavering commitment to our youngest learners.”
At Cal State Northridge, the bills that Newsom signed are designed to increase access to higher education for in-state students who would like to attend a school in the California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) system, create more affordable student housing, particularly for those attending community college, and expand financial aid.
Standing in a gym in front of students, cheerleaders, administrators and state officials, Newsom highlighted his higher education funding plan. According to him, it is the most funding for higher education in California history. The Budget has a total funding of $47.1 billion for all higher education entities in 2021-22.
“Californians have thrived at our world class universities for decades, but not everyone has had similar access – today that’s changing. Everyone deserves a shot at the ‘California Dream’ – we’re eliminating equity gaps and increasing opportunities at our universities to make those dreams a reality for more California students,” Newsom said.
McCarty, who was with the Governor the day before in Fresno said, “I do want to say that this year was the best year in the history of California, investing in higher education, our UC and CSU and community college system. So, with our governor’s leadership and the Legislature, we were able to pass a budget that fully funds the CSU budget request.”
He went on to say to applause, “You know what, we’re going to fund an additional 9000 slots for your little sisters and brothers and cousins to go to CSU.”
On Oct. 8, Newsom completed his education bill signing marathon by signing 22 more bills providing K-12 student mental and behavioral health supports in schools, expanding access to broadband across the state — particularly for those in underserved communities — and providing educational support for students to help boost academic achievement.
Among the bills Newsom signed was AB 101, which was introduced by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside). It requires school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9-12 to offer at least a one semester course in ethnic studies, beginning with the 2025-26 school year. It also requires students, beginning with the graduating class of 2029-30, to complete a one semester course in ethnic studies that meets specified requirements in order to receive a high school diploma.
In his signing statement, Newsom wrote, “Ethnic studies courses enable students to learn their own stories, and those of their classmates, and a number of studies have shown that these courses boost student achievement over the long run – especially among students of color.”
While ethnic studies is already being offered in many large school districts like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno and San Diego Unified, the subject has attracted controversy statewide. The Los Angeles Times opposes the bill, citing that it allows school districts too much flexibility to design their own curricula in conflict with the state’s approved model curriculum.
Newsom noted in his signing statement, “The legislation provides a number of guardrails to ensure that courses will be free from bias or bigotry and appropriate for all students.”
“At a time when some states are retreating from an accurate discussion of our history, I am proud that California continues to lead in its teaching of ethnic studies,” said Secretary of State Shirley Weber who authored AB 1460, which Newsom signed last year creating an ethnic studies requirement for all CSU colleges for graduation.