MOORLACH UPDATE — Fast Track for Charter Schools — February 22, 2019

After reviewing 944 school district Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports and finding the per capita for the unrestricted net position, you start to feel a pulse for the finances. That’s what marinating in a topic will do. Blaming school district ills on charter schools is a gross misdiagnosis. It’s like telling those who found a way out of the quagmire to seal the exit they’ve discovered. The Legislature needs to do a complete reevaluation of the state’s educational system (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Oakland Unified School District — February 21, 2019).

Although I affirm transparency and that all parties should enjoy a “no better, no worse” status, targeting a reasonable solution makes me nervous, so I laid off and did not vote on SB 126. Note: It has been vetoed in past years, as when Gov. Brown vetoed AB 709 in 2016. One of this year’s first bills is covered in the Ed Source piece, which is the first below.

This has been “Autobahn” week. It’s gone national, with former LA Times reporter Chris Woodyard publishing another perspective in USA Today, which is the second piece below. Some things are counterintuitive. No speed limits and no patrolling for offenders changes the psychological dynamics of the driving exercise. At least the debate has started (also see MOORLACH UPDATE — High Speed Road Idea — February 20, 2019 and MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 High Speed Road — February 19, 2019)

Fourtitude, a blog for Audi enthusiasts, provides a sample of another fun editorial on the no speed limit discussion in the third piece below.

California charter schools facing new oversight under fast track legislation

Assembly vote could come as early as next week. If it passes, Newsom expected to sign it.

Diana Lambert

At the urging of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a bill that will require charter schools to be more accountable and transparent is making its way swiftly through the legislature and may be the first of several bills seeking to tighten oversight of charter schools.

Senate Bill 126 would require that California charter school boards comply with the same open meeting, conflict-of-interest and disclosure laws as district school boards, including holding public board meetings, opening records to the public upon request and ensuring board members don’t have a financial interest in contracts on which they vote.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach. It passed the state Senate Thursday with a 34 to 2 vote and will go to the state Assembly for a vote as early as next week. If it passes, the law will go into effect Jan. 1.

The bill met no opposition from the California State Charter Schools Association, although it did not formally support it.

Leyva said she was able to get Senate Bill 126 through with little resistance because all parties, including representatives of the charter school association and teacher unions, were at the negotiating table hammering out the details.

Not everyone was happy with everything in the bill, but everyone felt they had input, she said.

Supporters say Senate Bill 126 is needed because charter schools, while publicly funded, are not required to follow the same rules for transparency and accountability that govern other publicly funded schools, Leyva said before the vote.

“SB 126 directly responds to Governor Gavin Newsom’s call for swift action to resolve ongoing charter school transparency issues,” Leyva said.

There has long been debate over whether charter school board members are subject to the same open meeting and conflict-of-interest laws as school district boards, she said. The California Attorney General’s office recently weighed in on the discussion with an advisory opinion that charter schools are subject to the same good government laws as school districts.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation three times because of concern that those bills went too far in prescribing how the boards must operate.

“It’s about transparency and accountability,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, before Thursday’s vote. “Charter schools receive quite a few taxpayer dollars. There needs to be sunshine in all public schools and their governing bodies and this is what this bill stands for.”

Many charters already abide by open meeting and public records laws, either voluntarily or because of agreements with the entities that granted their charter, said Carlos Marquez, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the California Charter Schools Association.

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who abstained from the vote, expressed concern Thursday that charter schools are becoming the “fall guy” for the financial woes of school districts. “I think you have to look past a lot of other culprits like pensions,” he said, referring to the high costs districts face to fund teacher and administrator pensions.

Parents select charter schools because there aren’t enough great public schools, Moorlach said.

“Tightening the screws on charter schools may be a misdirected solution,” he said. “… SB 126 is a Band-aid when major surgery is needed.”

The drumbeat to increase oversight of charter schools has grown louder since last year when increased charter accountability became an issue in the governor’s race and a temporary moratorium on charter schools was debated during the California state superintendent of public instruction contest. It grew louder more recently, as teachers in two major California cities — Los Angeles and Oakland — went on strike demanding higher pay and more state resources for classrooms.

California has the most charter schools in the country — 1,323 schools enrolling 660,000 students, according to the California Charter School Association. Seventy new charter schools opened in the 2018-19 school year. Twenty-five of those were in the greater Los Angeles area and 17 were in the Bay Area. Fifty-three charter schools closed or returned to a traditional school in the 2017-18 school year.

Teachers unions say that charter schools sap resources from school districts, who get paid by the state based on the number of students in their seats each day. In Los Angeles and Oakland striking teachers have demanded that their school boards curb charter growth.

The new contract with teachers in Los Angeles Unified that ended the strike in January included an agreement to ask the Legislature and Gov. Newsom to impose an eight to 10-month moratorium on charter schools in the district while the state studies the financial impact and other effects of charter schools. Oakland Unified’s school board and teachers have made a similar request.

In response, earlier this month, Newsom called on State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to establish a panel to research the impact of charter school growth on district finances. The panel, which is still being formed, will report back to Newsom on July 1.

This is the first time there has been an in-depth look at the financial impact of charter schools since the passage of California’s first charter law in 1992. The law prohibits school boards from taking the financial impact of a charter school on their district into account when deciding whether to grant or reauthorize a charter.

Los Angeles has 227 charter schools with 110,000 students — about one-sixth of its student population – and Oakland has 44 charter schools with 50,000 students — about half the district’s students.

Marquez said he hoped that Senate Bill 126 would encourage more collaboration between school districts and charter schools.

“Hopefully, we will take this cudgel off the table for our opponents, to perhaps de-escalate some of the rhetoric around charter schools being for-profit centers and our board members looking to get into the work of public education to line their pockets,” he said. “We couldn’t disagree with those assertions more vehemently. So, hopefully settling this area in law will put those falsehoods to bed.”

Seth Bramble, legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association, the teachers’ union, said charter schools were established to encourage innovation and to share best practices. “But the people cannot learn from this innovation if the people’s business is being conducted in private,” he said.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said there are other charter school accountability and financial oversight proposals being considered.

“One thing I’m exploring is a notion of a cap for new charter schools in California that will allow some capacity for charter schools to expand when low-performing schools are phased out or shut down,” McCarty said. “This will give some stability to some school districts in California related to declining enrollments.”

Some districts have so many charter schools that it is unsustainable for them financially, he said.

“It isn’t an aversion to charter schools as a whole, but their financial impact on the fiscal well-being of school districts across California and year-after-year growth in (charter) school population,” McCarty said.

Senate Bill 126 is moving quickly. It was introduced on Jan. 10, passed the Senate Education Committee Feb. 19 at its first meeting of the year and was approved on the Senate floor two days later.

“I think this is a great way to start off the year,” Leyva said.

Is the American Autobahn next? How states are pushing highway speeds past the limit

Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

After years of seeing posted highway speeds creep up around the country, perhaps it’s no surprise that a California legislator would propose the ultimate in motoring freedom: No limits at all.

State Sen. John Moorlach’s vision for a Golden State version of Germany’s famed Autobahn — a stretch of pavement where you can drive as fast you want — is just the latest in a series of moves by states to put the pedal to the metal when it comes to speed limits.

It’s happening even as safety experts try to throw on the brakes on speeds that have now reached legal levels they view as somewhere between risky and downright dangerous.

“We have routinely seen studies that show when states raise speed limits, they can expect higher deaths,” said Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the National Safety Council.

Seven states — Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming — have allowed 80 mph speed limits on select highways. One, Texas, has 85 mph on a section of State Highway 130. Legislatures have upped limits as cars have become safer and more powerful and the price of gas has tumbled, lowering concerns about the poor fuel mileage that high-speed driving can bring.

Yet, the resulting higher speeds haven’t made much of a statistical dent in highway deaths, the Governors Highway Safety Association reports.

In 2017, there were 9,717 speed-related deaths from among 37,133 total road fatalities. Those speed-related deaths were down 574 from 2016, were about the same as in 2015 and up 434 from 2014.

In California, Moorlach doesn’t think safety will be a showstopper when it comes to his no-speed-limit plan. He said crash concerns haven’t dampened enthusiasm for the German Autobahn, a haven for speedsters for decades. In announcing his plan, he pointed to a World Health Organization report that estimates road traffic deaths at 4.1 per 100,000 people in Germany compared to 12.4 in the U.S.

His bill would add four lanes to two highways, Interstate 5 and California State Route 99, for drivers who want the convenience of going without a speed limit.

The lanes would be in place of finishing the first leg of California’s high-speed rail line, derided as the “train to nowhere” by critics because the first leg wouldn’t connect to either Los Angeles or San Francisco, the whole point of the line as originally envisioned.

Making matters worse, the Trump administration announced this week that it will cancel $929 million in funding needed to complete the first segment of rail.

After California Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this month that building the entire bullet train line would be too expensive and take too long,Moorlach said a brainstorming session resulted in the American Autobahn idea. Adding lanes would be expensive, but it is “still a whole lot cheaper than $77 billion,” the latest estimated cost of the rail project.

It may be cheaper, but it won’t be safer, experts complain.

Higher speeds not only can increase the frequency of crashes, but the severity as well since vehicles smash into each other at higher combined speeds.

“You can change speed limits, but you can’t change physics,” Vogel said.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that the lives of 33,000 motorists and their passengers would have been saved if there had been no speed limit increases between 1993, when states posted highways at either 55 mph or 65 mph, and 2013.

Another IIHS study that looked only at the effect of raising the speed limit to 80 mph in Utah estimated that an increase in traffic speed of only 3 mph, to 78 mph, increased the chance of fatalities by 17 percent.

The other problem is that even with higher limits, people tend to drive faster than they should.

Having gone on trips to Utah and Nevada, where other motorists sometimes whiz by at 90 mph, Chuck Farmer, vice president of research for IIHS, said, “Personally, I find it very uncomfortable.”

“When higher speed signs go up, not only is traffic moving faster but some motorists immediately start exceeding the new posted limit,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. The effect is a “double whammy” on the average speed of traffic.

He calls speeding “the forgotten issue” in traffic safety. It’s ignored because so many drivers push the limits.

“We all do it. There’s no social stigma attached to it,” Adkins said.

California Congestion Bill Could Result in American Autobahn

by Matt PoskyFourtitude News Industry News

While California has some of the best driving roads in the country, large swaths of the state suffer from serious congestion issues. For years, the preferred solution was to bolster public transit in San Francisco and Los Angeles while simultaneously establishing high-speed rail lines between the two areas. Unfortunately, costs ballooned and support for the project dwindled.

Legislators are now left with a problem. Abandoning the rail program means settling for partially completed lines incapable of transporting passengers directly between LA and the Bay Area. California needs a different solution, andSen. John Moorlach (R-CA) has a doozy of a proposition: highway lanes with no speed limit.

Effectively, an American Autobahn.

Senate Bill 319 suggests adding two additional lanes to north and southbound Interstate 5 and Route 99 without limitations to vehicle velocity. While the bill doesn’t expressly state how far these lanes will extend, Automobile claims they would run from Stockton to Bakersfield — a distance of about 240 miles via I-5 or 230 miles via CA-99. This puts the lanes on roughly the same route as the costly rail line.

“If Sacramento is serious about allowing Californians to travel between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and High-Speed Rail will take too long to build, let’s construct four additional lanes with no maximum speed limit to provide for high speed on a safe road,” Moorlach suggested.

While Automobile cites an addendum to SB-319 suggesting that speeds in excess of 100 mph would be punishable by hefty fines, the inclusion stems from existing vehicle code. The bill is clearly aimed at unlimited speeds and will seek exemptions for those lanes, which Moorlach said would be separated.

Critics have complained that California would never go for unlimited speed limits and suggested that the proposal is dangerous. However, statistics have repeatedly proven that Germany’s motorways are less perilous than their U.S. equivalents. Even in the case of the Autobahn, the elevated number of high-speed crashes rarely manage to supersede the number of fatalities witnessed or rural back roads in a given year.

Truth be told, the big hurdle for Senate Bill 319 will be convincing California that it won’t hurt the environment. Trains are seen as the greener option. While unquestionably true when hauling a full load, the matter becomes cloudy when rail lines don’t see a lot of business. Every empty seat means a bigger carbon footprint for those still riding, especially when the train is dependent upon fossil fuels (which includes electric trains sourcing energy from coal- or gas-powered plants).

That’s where SB-319 has an opportunity. Despite spending a fortune on rail lines over the last two decades, Southern California has seen car ownership (and its population) explode and mass transit decline. L.A. Metro, the region’s largest transit provider, said bus ridership fell by 23 percent between 2009 to 2017. Meanwhile, rail usage has increased, though not at a rate that keeps pace with all the state’s new drivers.

By minimizing vehicle idle time, the bill proposes a reduction in overall emissions for the roadways using the added lanes. In fact, it proposes using California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to build them.

While we like the idea, this kind of legislation has a habit of getting modified until the most interesting aspects are removed. If SB-319 does pass, the no-speed-limit angle will likely be altered. But we’re not abandoning all hope.


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