Legislative Agenda to Address the School to Prison Pipeline

Golden Gate University School of Law’s student organization Dignity In Schools and is supported by a coalition of community organizations, as well as the following student organizations at Golden Gate University: Queer Law Student Association (QLSA), Black Law Students Association (BLSA), La Raza, ACLU, National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and the American Constitution Society (ACS).

California faces a crisis in students not finishing high school. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that 37% of African American students are not finishing,  and 22 % of all California students are unable to complete school. A large portion of students who do not finish high school end up incarcerated. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, 60% of African American males who do not finish high school will end up in prison at some point in their lives. The California Dropout Research Project found that a 50 percent reduction in dropouts statewide could save $12 billion and prevent nearly 15,000 criminal acts.


We have identified the following four areas to address in order to begin addressing this issue:


(1) Adequate Funding.


California schools are inadequately funded to reach state-mandated goals.  The non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California found that at least an estimated 40% increase in funding from 2003-04 levels targeted mostly to low-income schools, was needed to meet the state’s achievement standards.[1] California’s education budget has been reduced since 2003-04 and will faces further reductions this year as a result of the failed budget negotiations around extending temporary taxes.  Thousands of teachers have already received pink slips throughout the state and districts are planning to shut down core programs and services. In communities where young people face deeper challenges outside of school an increased level of funding is necessary.   The exact opposite situation exists in California, where schools and districts with the highest concentration of low income students receive the least per capita base funding.  Further, a study by Education Trust West from March of 2005, California’s Hidden Teacher Spending Gap, demonstrates that even within districts, the highest poverty schools receive substantially less funding than lowest poverty schools.[2] More recent data show a 10 percent increase in the rate of student poverty in a California public school is associated with a $411 drop in average teacher salary, on average.  This finding translates to concrete disparities in funds available to support instruction.[3]

Requested Actions:
·      Support AB 18: School-based Financial Reporting System.  A.B. 18 requires the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to make recommendations to the Legislature and Governor for changes to support development, implementation and use of comprehensive school-level financial data to ensure that California schools are adequately funded to meet the state’s achievement standards.
·      Oppose further cuts to California’s K-12 schools in the current budget cycle.
  • Support legalization of marijuana providing increased taxes to fund for California’s schools and a decreased need for funding for the criminal justice system.


(2) Disciplinary Measures.


School officials rely heavily on suspensions and expulsions as primary methods of student discipline and school resource officers often refer children to the juvenile justice system for minor offenses, such as schoolyard scuffles. We believe that this approach is contradictory to the education’s system’s goal to help children become productive and successful members of society, and often places students into the unstable environments that have led to their discipline problems in the first place. Disciplinary measures should teach students to be productive members of a classroom, and teach all students ways to reach positive resolution to conflict, rather than excluding and further alienating students already on the fringes. District-wide positive behavior support model implemented in Los Angeles,[4] restorative practices currently being implemented in Oakland,[5] and wrap around services provided by programs like the Harlem Childen Zone[6] and the Promise Neighborhoods[7] are examples of a more progressive approach to student discipline.


Requested Actions:
  • Support AB 9 (Ammiano) (Seth’s Law) to establish anti-bullying guidelines, including progressive discipline measures for students who have engaged in bullying practices.
  • Support state funding for Promise Neighborhoods
  • Support legislation to establish alternative discipline measures similar to the federal Positive Behavior for Safe and Effective Schools Act (H.R. 2597).
  • Support SB 433 (Liu) to require a charter school to comply with laws governing school districts relating to the suspension and expulsion of students..
  • Oppose AB 13 (Knight) which would prohibit parents and other community volunteers from helping out in classrooms and on school field trips if they have certain drug or any “serious and violent felony” convictions.


(3) Holistic Evaluations of Student Performance.


Standardized testing has reduced students to mere numbers, making it more and more difficult for schools to be flexible in addressing the learning needs of their students, and providing incentive for schools to push low performing students out of school. We support more holistic measures to review student achievement instead of standardized testing.


Recommended Action

  • Support AB 5 (Fuentes)  to revamp California’s teacher evaluation process and develop one that is fair, transparent, comprehensive and accountable to students, parents and teachers.
  • Support and prioritize the development of alternative and performance based assessments when California develops new assessments.
  • Halt CA’s standardized testing system and use the funding to encourage districts and schools to use formative assessments that help identify students’ needs and provide students’ supports.  With recent budget cuts and flexibility allowed in the use of categorical funds originally targeting intervention and remediation for struggling students, their needs are even greater.


(4) Establish Statewide Goals.


It is necessary that the state take immediate and substantial ongoing action to address the enormous number of students not finishing school.  To assure that the state is making changes through its programs it is necessary to set ambitious statewide goals to increase the number of students finishing school and the other indicators that lead to students not finishing, including truancy, attendance, office referrals, suspensions and expulsions and analyze in an ongoing way how various initiatives are working to reach these goals..


Recommended Actions

  • Set annual goals for the percent of students completing high school, truancy, attendance, office referrals, suspensions and expulsions, and arrest and citations of students with projected changes for the next decade.  Goals should also address racial disparities.
  • Require “low performing schools” receiving Title I and/or federal School Improvement Grant  or Title I program Monitor and report on what each district is doing to address these issues and whether they have developed and are implementing early warning systems that catch students who are “chronically” absent (defined as missing 10% or more of school (excused or not, per SB 1357 (Steinberg 2010), as supported by Chronic Absence Coalition.
  • Publish changes to these numbers and analysis as to how programs are working to meet them.
  • implementation of the federal School Improvement Grant program, federal funds in Obama’s Title I program.

[1] Jon Sonstelie, Public Policy Institute of California, Aligning School Finance With Academic Standards, iii (2007) available at http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/op/OP_307JSOP.pdf

[2] California Trust West, California’s Hidden Teacher Spending Gap (2005) available at http://www.hiddengap.org/resources/report031105.pdf

[3] Affeldt, J. and Mayer, G.  Lifting the Fog of Averages, Enacting and Implementing California’s Requirement to Report Actual Per Pupil Expenditures School by School. Center for American Progress (2010) available at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/05/liftingthefog.html

[4] Los Angeles Unified School District, Discipline Policy, available at disciplinepolicy.lausd.net

[5] Oakland Unified School District, Restorative Justice Programs, available at http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/19941071414514550/site/default.asp

[6] Harlem Children’s Zone   http://www.hcz.org/

[7] Promise Neighborhood Institute  www.promiseneighborhoodsinstitute.org;  also see Department of Education, Promise Neighborhoods http://www2.ed.gov/programs/promiseneighborhoods/index.html



This is still a work in progress.  We are still finalizing this document and incorporating suggestions that we have received over the past few days.