Parent advocates strike back

Parent advocates strike back

It’s easy to understand why California’s public schools are seeing a mass exodus of students and families. The once-Golden State continues to have some of the worst student math and reading scores in the nation. Yet schools chief Tony Thurmond and Gov. Gavin Newsom seem more concerned about bogus “book bans” and helping kids secretly change their gender at school than educating kids.

That’s why California Policy Center is sponsoring two important bills this legislative session. The first, Senate Bill 1203, has been introduced by Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), and would establish Education Flex Accounts (EFA) and Special Education Flex Accounts (SEFA) for California K-12 students. These accounts would allow parents to use the state general fund dollars allocated to their student for their assigned neighborhood school to instead pay tuition and education expenses at the accredited private school of their choice.

Based on parent or guardian income, $8,000 will be available to each student, and $16,000 will be available to students with special needs. The annual amount will be adjusted each year, with the program expanding to families of all income levels after four years. Since the Governor’s Proposed January Budget Summary for 2024-25 anticipates spending $17,653 in state and local funds for each child in a traditional public school, the bill will save the state money.

Parents should have the tools and resources necessary to provide the best education opportunities for their kids regardless of their zip code, and they will have those resources should they decide to participate in this program.

California Policy Center is also sponsoring Senate Bill 1435, which proposes a better standard to address obscene materials in California’s kindergarten through 8th grade classrooms and libraries. SB 1435 has been introduced by Senate Education Committee Vice Chair Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa). In short, if material cannot be read or displayed on broadcast television or public radio channels — or in school board meetings, for that matter — it should not be in the public-school classrooms and libraries of our elementary or middle schools in California.

Contrary to the destructive and disingenuous “book banning” charade being hyped by the teachers’ unions and lawmakers like Asm. Corey Jackson (D-Perris), obscene material is not protected under the First Amendment — as established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. California (1973) 413 U.S. 15. Further, Congress has prohibited the broadcasting of obscene material in Section 1464 of Title 18 of the United States Code. The Federal Communications Commission states that federal law “prohibits obscene, indecent, and profane content from being broadcast on the radio or television.”

Unfortunately, many of the books being championed by Democrats and special interests display over-the-top graphic depictions and language describing sexual acts and behavior that have no business being in California’s elementary and middle schools. This bill would ensure that the materials in K-8 classrooms are age-appropriate and meet the same decency standards that the American public expects and the Supreme Court and Congress have long affirmed.

In addition, CPC is supporting Assembly Bill 2222, introduced by Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), which would require the State Board of Education to ensure that all instructional materials in California’s K-12 schools adhere to the science of reading. It would also require the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to update its literacy standards in order to ensure adherence to the science of reading.

In a seminal podcast that has become required listening for any serious education professional, Sold a Story, journalist Emily Hanford exposed the literacy programs that have failed several generations of students. States are taking her research very seriously and, in places like Mississippi, are making dramatic changes in teaching literacy with spectacular results.

For decades, California schools have been a testing ground for experimental reading curriculum that jettisoned traditional phonics instruction for fads like “balanced literacy,” “whole-word reading,” and “cueing” approaches that have led to a nationwide literacy crisis. In California, the result has been a “staggering number of public school students who cannot read at grade level and may never be functionally literate for the rest of their lives,” reports CPC Research Manager Sheridan Swanson.

State test scores show that nearly 60 percent of California students aren’t reading at grade level by the time they reach third grade. A recent policy brief by EdVoice, Decoding Dyslexia CA and Families In Schools explains that the crisis is disproportionately affecting students in low-income families, and “are more likely to be Black or Latino, English learners, or students with disabilities.” The 74 reports that, “In the 2022-2023 school year, 31% of third-graders in low-income families were reading on grade level. For students not considered low-income, 63% were reading on grade level.”

If there’s any good news, it’s this: A recent study by researchers at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education found that a California program that “emphasized training teachers in the principles of the science of reading” in more than 70 of the state’s lowest-performing public schools “yielded test-score gains for third graders in 2022 and 2023,” writes The New York Times.

Dozens of states across the nation have already enacted laws mandating schools use the science of reading. Let’s hope California is next.

When legislators return from Spring Recess, these three bills are on track to be heard and debated in the Senate and Assembly education committees. We encourage you to write letters of support for these bills and ask your local community and parent groups to do the same. For an example of how to write a letter of support to a committee, you can view CPC’s letters of support for SB 1203 and SB 1435. It’s worth your time to take two minutes to learn how to submit a letter through the California Legislature Position Letter Portal at the 2:40 mark in CPC’s easy-to-follow video tutorial Parent Union Toolkit: LegInfo Tour.

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