More bills fail to progress as legislative session winds down

More bills fail to progress as legislative session winds down

(Calif.) Bills to expand access to mental health services in schools, prohibit the expulsion of preschoolers and require human trafficking prevention education all stalled in what was likely their last hearing this legislative session last week.

While it is possible that the bills moved to the sideline could be brought back up, it is highly unlikely. This Friday is the last day for fiscal committees to refer bills to Senate or Assembly floor, and the vast majority of the more than 200 bills heard by the Senate appropriation committee last week were sent to the suspense file–few of which are likely to receive another chance this session.

One of the bills which had received widespread support from the education community this session was AB 254, authored by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond. As proposed, the state would have allocated $15 million a year to fund a pilot program to help schools hire their own mental health specialists.

Thurmond had said that improving mental health resources, especially in low-income schools, would improve academic achievement and behavior, increase attendance, reduce dropout rates and promote parent engagement.

“This bill ensures that the appropriate mental health services are in place at schools,” Thurmond said in a statement prior to a hearing last week. “All students, regardless of economic circumstance, deserve an opportunity to pursue an education and get the treatment they need to stay healthy and remain active in schools, so that they can better academic outcomes.”

There are an estimated 700,000 students in California who have a serious behavioral health disorder, but only 120,000 receive therapy or counseling through formal special educational services, according to Thurmond’s office.

AB 254 would have allowed local education agencies to hire their own specialists in areas including evidence-based mental health or alcohol and substance abuse treatment services, community support programs, or emergency psychiatric care, instead of relying on third-party contractors.

The bill had received support from health- and school-based groups such as the California Teachers Association, the California School Nurses Organization, the California School-Based Health Alliance, the California School Board Association, the Children’s Defense Fund and the California State PTA.

A second bill that failed to move out of committee–AB 1321–was perhaps less surprising. Although the bill, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, received unanimous support in the lower house and among some advocacy groups, it was not supported by either the CTA or Gov. Jerry Brown.

Weber’s bill would have required LEAs to collect and file detailed report expenditures of federal, state and local funds by both districts and individual schools. The more than 130 groups that supported of AB 1321 said the requirements of the bill were necessary to ensure that stakeholders know whether additional state funds provided under the Local Control Funding Formula are being used to support the state’s targeted subgroups–foster youth, English learners and low-income students–are actually being spent on supports for those students.

Brown and teachers groups, however, argued that detailing every dollar spent would simply add accounting expenses without providing much benefit to schools or communities, and would divert focus away from improving outcomes for underserved students by reigniting debate over the use of the LCFF money for salaries and benefits.

Other education bills that failed to move for a full Senate vote include:

  • AB 752, authored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, which would have required preschools to pursue and document reasonable steps taken to remedy a child’s bad behavior before suspending them, and would have prohibited state preschool providers from expelling children except in the most serious circumstances. The bill was a response to a report from the U.S. Department of Education that showed almost 7,000 preschoolers were suspended during the 2013-14 school year, and African American children were almost 4 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than their white peers.
  • AB 1227 was authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, in response to California’s recent distinction as having the highest rate of human trafficking in the U.S. The bill would have required schools to include human trafficking among the comprehensive sexual health education. Lessons would focus on the prevalence of the issue and strategies to reduce the risk of human trafficking, as well as techniques to set healthy boundaries and safely seek assistance.