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Good morning, California. Today, let’s talk about education.

“Trapped with no transportation, they could not escape the fast-moving inferno”—Sacramento Bee, reporting on the deaths in Redding of Melody Bledsoe and her two great-grandchildren, ages 5 and 4. They were among six people confirmed dead as the Carr fire consumed more than 150 square miles in Shasta and Trinity counties. Outside of Yosemite, a second firefighter died Sunday battling the Ferguson fire.

Education equity to get a new day in court

A lawsuit accuses schools of failing to teach children to read.

A superior court judge is allowing a suit to proceed alleging California has failed to teach some African-American and Latino children to read.

Sounds familiar: Recent civil rights suits challenged California schools over school funding and teacher tenure rules that work against kids in poor schools.

Now, the public interest law firm, Public Counsel, and the law firm, Morrison & Foerster, are suing on behalf of students at low-performing schools: La Salle Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles; Van Buren Elementary in Stockton; and Children of Promise Preparatory Academy in Inglewood.

Reading proficiency at the schools was 4, 6 and 11 percent respectively. Kids named in the suit are African-American, Latino or of mixed race.

The lead plaintiff, second grader Ella T.: “Her mother spends time working with her on reading, math, and other homework, but still Ella T. cannot spell basic words like paper, dear, need or help.”

California has 11 of the nation’s lowest 26 performing school districts, including those in Los Angeles, Stockton, Oakland and Santa Ana, the suit says.

The suit: “In a cruel irony, it is only while incarcerated that some young people learn to read.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos ruled last week the suit could proceed, citing racial discrimination allegations.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s spokesman, Bill Ainsworth: “The ruling is disappointing and the California Department of Education, State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction will be reviewing all legal options available moving forward.”

P.S.: “The schoolchildren of California deserve to know whether their fundamental right to education is a paper promise or a real guarantee,” California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in 2016, urging the court to hear a case challenging public education inequities. He lost then.

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New graduation data: racial disparities persist

File art.

California’s high school graduation rate dipped slightly in 2017, and racial and ethnic disparities persisted, according to data released last week by the state Department of Education.

Remind me: A federal audit this year questioned California’s method for calculating past graduation rates. California updated its methodology and reports that the four-year graduation rate was 82.7 percent in 2017, down by 1.1 percentage points from an all-time high in 2016.

The department posted the data here.

Four-year graduation rates: Asian-Americans 93.1 percent; whites 87.3 percent; Latinos 80.3; African-Americans 73.1 percent. Grads meeting university admission requirements: Asian-Americans 76.3 percent; whites 55; Latinos 42.4; African-Americans 39.6.

Edsource: “Only 50.8 percent of foster youths graduated, and 28.8 percent—more than a quarter—dropped out.”

Child poverty still above Great Recession levels

More than 1 in 5  California children lived in poverty in 2016, and 83.5 percent lived in families where at least one parent worked, an indication of stagnant wages, a new report shows.

Federal yardstick: 19.9 percent of California children lived in families that could not make ends meet in 2016, above the 2007 number of 17.3 percent.

Factoring in California’s high cost of living, the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality concluded 21.3 percent of children lived in poverty in 2016. That was based on an annual household income of $31,000 or less for a family of four. Another 24.4 percent of children were slightly above the poverty line.

Ethnic breakdown: 28 percent of Latino children lived in poverty; 20 percent of African-American kids; 16 percent of Asian-American kids; and 11.6 percent of white children.

“The relationship between child poverty and parents’ educational attainment is striking,” the report said. Parents of more than half of the kids who lived in poverty didn’t graduate from high school.

P.S.: The numbers would be worse without the earned income tax credit, food assistance and similar safety net programs, researchers found.

Labor sends a message over tenure bill

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber.

Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber has tangled with public school teachers’ unions, and the California Labor Federation exacted a price by declining to endorse the San Diego lawmaker for re-election earlier this month.

Labor endorses the vast majority of Democrats, but not when they cross a union on a core issue. As CALmatters wrote in this profile, Weber, a retired college professor, pushed legislation to require that teachers work for three years rather than two before becoming eligible for tenure.

Over opposition from the teachers’ union, the Assembly approved the measure in 2017, but the Senate Education Committee finally killed it in June. Labor’s non-endorsement followed shortly after.

P.S.: Weber should win reelection; her district is overwhelmingly Democratic.

California Dream: College costs are elusive

In the latest California Dream episode, KQED’s Vanessa Rancaño in collaboration with CALmatters reports that universities’ cost estimates for housing and food are way off. Fresno State and UCLA, for example, claim students should expect to pay nearly the same for food and housing, though costs are dramatically different. The estimates skew students’ budgets as they struggle to attain the California Dream of an affordable education at a great public university.

Walters: Brown’s final push to replumb California

CALmatters commentator Dan Walters writes that Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is on the verge of reordering water allocations on a grand scale, and has earmarked $2.7 billion for new storage, including a reservoir not far from the Colusa County land where Brown plans to retire.

Walters: “Brown is trying, almost desperately, to move the (California WaterFix) project to the point of certainty and may succeed.”


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