Schwarzenegger signs school legislation

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited a Los Angeles middle school Thursday to celebrate legislation that sets the course for future school reforms and improves the state’s chances at qualifying for federal money to carry them out.

The signing ceremony occurred at Bethune Middle School in Florence, which officials cited as successfully serving the low-income minority students who stand to benefit most from the new laws.

The legislation was approved in the state Assembly and Senate earlier this week despite vigorous opposition from statewide teachers unions and other groups. The bills are intended to increase California’s eligibility for as much as $700 million in federal Race to the Top grants, which the Obama administration is using to advance favored reforms.


The measures call for districts to take aggressive steps to turn failing schools around, including firing staff, closing schools and converting campuses to independently operated charter schools.

Schwarzenegger called particular attention to the most fought-over provisions.

One would make it easier for parents to enroll their children in a school outside their district. Previously, the exit doors of a failing school “might as well have been chained,” the governor said. “Parents can now take their children out,” sending them “to other districts.”

Another contested element gives parents the legal right to launch major reforms at a low-performing school by collecting signatures representing 50% of the school’s current or potential future students. The Legislature capped the number of schools where that could occur at 75.

The legislation also seeks to link teacher evaluations to student performance, if permitted under union contracts.