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Shortsighted Action Will Hurt Thousands of Latino Students

“The decision by a committee leader to hold SB 1432 will put an end to the successful 24-year old District of Choice program used by approximately 10,000 students.”
Senator Huff represents the 29th Senate District covering portions of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties
Estudianters protestan por recortes presupuestarios en un distrito escolar de Los Ángeles, California (archivo) Crédito: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Assembly Appropriations Committee took surprising action recently that will disrupt the education of thousands of children (nearly a third are Latino students) and will lead to teacher and school support staff layoffs and possible school district bankruptcies across California. The decision by a committee leader to hold SB 1432 will put an end to the successful 24-year old District of Choice program used by approximately 10,000 students.

By way of background, the District of Choice program allows parents to transfer their children to participating school districts without a transfer agreement. Nearly 50 school districts across California have taken board action to make themselves Districts of Choice schools, and parents have taken advantage of this to get a better education for their children.

Eliminating this program virtually overnight with this decision will be catastrophic for many school districts. One district (Walnut Valley Unified School District) reports that they will lose over $28 million. They will lose over 3400 students (958 of whom are Latino), be forced to lay off more than one hundred full-time teachers and close two elementary schools, one middle school and possibly one of their two high schools.

But Walnut Valley isn’t the only school district that is suddenly faced with the prospect of bankruptcy. Glendora Unified, where 51 percent of the DOC students are Latino, stand to lose $8.9 million. Ending this program means districts may not be able to continue with some of their innovative and top-ranked programs and could fall into state receivership.

I’ve successfully carried legislation three times reauthorizing the District of Choice program, and introduced SB 1432 earlier this year following a fact-finding report issued by California’s independent, non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). They found that District of Choice has been overwhelmingly positive for schools and students, as well as districts that lose or gain students through the transfer process. I keep authoring these extensions because this program is for ALL students, especially those who may never have an opportunity for better education options.

The sole reason I am hearing whispered in Capitol corridors as to why the bill was killed is that it was discriminatory. That is simply untrue. All students benefit from District of Choice. The LAO report finds that 10,202 students use this program. Of those, 3,294 are Latino. What will happen to these children?

In response to these assertions, I worked diligently over the past year to address the concern and even included a transportation component for helping expand the program to even more children. I continue to remain open to making the program bigger and more inclusive than ever. Our experience is that choice increases diversity in District of Choice. Closing it down should never be the answer.

The District of Choice program is one of the few mechanisms to create healthy competition within our public school system, which for the most part, is a monopoly with few choices for parents.

By killing SB 1432, the future of nearly 50 highly-ranked school districts (four of which are ranked as America’s top high schools according to Newsweek) has been thrown into doubt and thousands of Latino children will be told to go back to their neighborhood schools, denying many the best public education we can give them. This only hurts those whom the opposition claims they protect.

I am working tirelessly with Democrat and Republican legislators across the state whose districts have these choice schools, to find a way to extend the program. Without an agreement by the end of August, the District of Choice program will expire next year.

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