Governor Newsome signs sweeping education legislation into law, nixes some issues

Pixabay+Image.

Pixabay Image.

By Ethan Machado, C. K. McClatchy High School

After eight months, California’s legislative session came to a frantic end at the end of August. Proposing a final flurry of bills before the clock struck midnight on Aug. 31, Gavin Newsom had through the end of September to either sign or veto the bills that passed the Legislature. 

Here is a look at some of the important education-related bills Newsom signed into law as well as a few others that were vetoed:

SIGNED BILLS

Encouraging Student Civic Participation

SB 955 allows middle school and high school students one excused absence to take part in civic activities like candidate forums and town halls, provided they notify the school ahead of time.

“SB 955 prioritizes student opportunities for civic engagement and will help them gain a better understanding of how their involvement can help to change and improve the world around them.” Sen. Connie Leyva, who authored the bill, said in a statement.

Newsom signed the bill into law on Sept. 30. 

The Buy America Food Act

SB 490, beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, prohibits all local educational agencies from purchasing agricultural food products grown, packed, or processed outside of the United States. Purchase of a non-domestic food product is permitted if the price of the product is 25 percent lower than the domestic product, or if there is insufficient quantity, or if the product is not comparable. 

Organizations such as the California School Boards Association, California Association of School Business Officials, and Los Angeles Unified School District opposed the bill. 

In a statement, CSBA called the bill “well-intentioned, but harmful,” saying it could inevitably cause schools to spend more to feed students. 

Newsom signed the bill into law on Sept. 27 and in his message said the policy, “will benefit the California agricultural industry and agricultural workers, as well as the teachers and students consuming these meals in our schools.”

In the statement, he also addressed opponents’ concerns. “This bill may result in additional costs beyond the funding for universal access subsidized school meals provided in the budget,” he said. “Any requests for additional resources to implement SB 490 will need to be reviewed and included in the annual budget process.”

Increased Student Participation at District Level

SB 997, effective July 1, 2024, will require the governing board of a school district to include at least 2 students as full members of the parent advisory committee or establish a separate student advisory committee. On the parent advisory committee, students would serve for a one-year term that could be renewed.

Newsom signed this bill into law on Sept. 30. 

New School Holiday

AB 1801, authored by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, designates April 24 as “Genocide Remembrance Day” and adds it to the list of state holidays.

The bill authorizes, but does not require, community colleges and public schools to close on that day, which will commemorate the Holocaust, as well as genocides of Armenian, Cambodian, Rwandan and other populations.

Newsom signed this bill on Sept. 29. 

Newsom said in a statement, “Genocide commemoration is more than a history lesson. It is a powerful tool to engage people across generations in the sanctity of human rights, the enormity of crime, and how to prevent future atrocities. Establishing a state holiday that commemorates genocides – both past and present – provides space for groups to heal and send a powerful signal about our California values.” 

VETOED BILLS

Free Transportation for All Students 

AB 1919 would have required the creation of a five-year program to allow all California students, including higher education students, to ride public transit for free.

The bill would have required Caltrans to run the program, and manage grants to transit agencies that applied for funding. It had bipartisan support.

Highlighting the estimated $115 million annual cost, however, Newsom vetoed the bill on Sept. 13. 

“(The) bill requires the creation of a new grant program that was not funded in the budget,” Newsom wrote in a letter after the veto. “Bills with significant fiscal impact, such as this measure, should be considered and accounted for as part of the annual budget process.”

Student Mental Health Care Access

AB 552, would have established  the Integrated School-Based Behavioral Health Partnership Program to provide students prevention and early intervention behavioral health services. 

The bill would have also authorized a county behavioral health agency, as well as the governing board or body of a local education agency, to collaborate on assessing the need for school-based mental health and substance use disorder services. 

Newsom vetoed the bill on Sept. 19.

“While I share the … goal of addressing the mental health needs of children and youth, the partnership programs proposed under this bill would duplicate requirements for school-based behavioral health services being developed,” Newsom said in his veto message. “Additionally, I am concerned that this bill could create significant one-time and ongoing costs in the millions of dollars for the departments that would play a role in implementing these programs.”