A school choice program in California is set to come to an end, resulting in thousands of students being forced to change school districts, millions of dollars in budget cuts, and hundreds of layoffs in the affected school districts.
The “district of choice” law currently allows close to 10,000 students throughout the state of California to enroll in schools in 47 participating school districts without needing to receive permission from their home districts.
However, the law, which has been in effect for over two decades, is now facing opposition from critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union and school districts that are losing students. These groups argue that the law increases segregation and discriminates against poor and minority families who cannot afford the travel expenses involved in attending school in other districts, writes Hayley Munguia for The San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
SB 1432, a bill looking to extend the law for another five years, had made it through the state Senate and the Assembly Education Committee. It was then held by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, making this school year the last that the program will be in use.
“It is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s judgement that the Districts of Choice program exacerbates the unequal system of haves-and-have-nots in our public schools and that the most disadvantaged schools and the students they serve get left behind,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “In fact, the whole program appears to run contrary to the policy led by Gov. Brown to focus more resources on the schools that need it the most.”
Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 1771 was introduced as an alternative to SB 1432. This bill would have let the law expire while allowing students who are currently enrolled in the program to finish their time at their school before being sent back to their home district. For example, a student in middle school would be allowed to complete all grades at that school through the eighth grade, but would then be required to begin high school at their home district. However, this bill did not pass either, writes Anna Phillips for The Los Angeles Times.
Supporters of the program are looking to the January session for a new bill to be written and passed that would save the program. However, Sen. Bob Huff, the author of SB 1432, is set to retire in November, and it is unclear if anyone else would want to become involved.
“We’re trying to find a new author for a bill in January,” parent Teruni Evans said. “We’re not giving up because it’s a matter of choice. It’s a parent’s choice to decide. If I had to drive two hours away to take my kids to school, I would do it, because I want them to be able to have what I think is the best education for them.”
If the program comes to an end, the districts involved would see major budget cuts as a result due to the lack of per-pupil funding, which in turn would mean layoffs. The Walnut Valley school district would lose $29 million, or over 25% of its budget. As a result, they would need to lay off over 300 employees, which would cut down four schools and cut the number of programs offered by the district.