Democrat Assemblywoman Blocks Bill to Extend California School Choice Program

Published October 3, 2016

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has halted extension of the state’s 22-year-old school “District of Choice” (DOC) program, set to expire at the end of the 2016–17 school year.

DOC is a school choice program that allows students to cross district boundaries and enroll in any of 47 participating school districts without a transfer agreement from their home district. The program serves about 10,000 students across the state. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (CLAO) issued a study about the program earlier in 2016. In its report, CLAO said the DOC program “provides transfer students with additional educational options,” and “transfer students have varied demographic backgrounds.”

Passed Senate, Halted in House

Senate Bill 1432, introduced by state Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas), would have extended DOC for five additional years. Three state Senate committees and the Assembly Education Committee approved SB 1432 before it passed the Senate in a 38–1 vote.

Gonzalez, the chairperson of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, then stopped the bill’s progress in August by setting it aside in what is known in the California State Legislature as the “suspense file.”

“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 press statement. “In fact, the whole program appears to run contrary to the policy led by Gov. [Jerry] Brown to focus more resources on the schools that need it the most.”

Parents, school officials, and students participated in rallies protesting Gonzalez’s action. A petition to “Let Parents Have a Choice in Their Children’s Education” on had 5,400 signatures as of mid-September.  

“There’s time in the January session for a new bill to be written and passed, extending the life of the program,” the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported. “But [Huff] is set to retire in November, and it’s unclear who, if anyone, will take up the mantle.”

Dems ‘Prop Up Failing District’

Huff says the government should not force children to remain in failing institutions.

“Unfortunately, my Democrat colleagues like to put their thumb on the scale to determine the winners and losers, and in this case, prop up a failing district,” Huff said. “In government, we typically support that which is failing and punish that which is succeeding, when it really should be the other way around.”

Cites Teachers Union Control

Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, says the state’s teachers unions deserve much of the blame for impeding parental choice.

“You would think the Democrats would be more in tune with Districts of Choice,” Sand said. “However, it’s no secret that in California, the California Teachers Association controls the heavily Democratic state legislature, and anything smelling of parent empowerment or school choice does not sit well with the union. They are just fine with the antiquated and ridiculous ZIP-code-mandated education system.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.