Education Equity Bills by State Senator Josh Becker Clear Key Committee
For Immediate Release
SB 767 Helps K-12 School Districts Address the Digital Divide
SB 659 Empowers Community College Districts to Expand Access to Underserved Students
SACRAMENTO – The Senate Education Committee unanimously passed bills by Senator Josh Becker today to help make community college more affordable to the students most in need and to equitably provide the state’s public school districts with much-needed development and technical support for digital learning programs.
“I’m grateful for the Education Committee’s strong bipartisan support,” said Senator Becker, D-Peninsula. “This legislation advances California’s efforts to help bridge the digital divide in our public schools and to make higher education more accessible.”
Closing the Digital Divide
Senate Bill 767 would create the statewide Digital Education Equity Program, called DEEP, to equitably provide education technology, network and professional development support to all California public school districts.
“This is a step toward closing the digital divide in California schools,” said Senator Becker. “The transition to distance learning during the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the stark inequities among school districts in our communities. “
In many schools, educators don’t have access to the information and professional development they need to cost-effectively plan for and implement current and emerging technology that supports instruction.
State funding for such support ended when California adopted the Local Control Funding Formula about seven years ago. Currently, without coordinated state and regional focus on policy, programs and funding, the digital divide simply grows wider. Many districts do not have equal access to the resources they need to select, acquire and implement technology effectively for classroom instruction – or to effectively provide students access to these resources so they can work from home.
SB 767 re-establishes and funds a centralized support program that would be overseen by the state Department of Education and implemented with close collaboration of County Offices of Education. The legislation would formalize, provide structure and expand relationships that were fostered in the absence of a statewide support program.
Writing in support of SB 767, San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee said: “While there has been collaboration throughout the state between teachers, administrators and educational technology professionals regarding the digital learning opportunities and challenges presented by the pandemic, a centralized, regional approach to addressing these issues presents the most effective and efficient way for districts and County Offices of Education to share knowledge and further build capacity.”
Expanding Access to Higher Education
SB 659 empowers community college districts to provide – and expand—equitable access to underrepresented student populations and those who demonstrate need. Specifically, the bill would give community college districts the option of waiving, or reducing, enrollment fees and allow districts more flexibility in using existing local funds to cover those costs, as well as others that would help support students’ education. The bill is not a mandate and instead grants community college districts the authority to pursue such a course as approved by their respective governing boards and under policy that would be set by their governing boards.
Current law limits whether college districts may waive or reduce fees and limits how districts may use their local funds to help support students’ basic education needs.
“This bill is about giving community college districts the tools to remove barriers that are keeping students from enrolling or completing their degrees -- and amazingly, it won’t cost the state additional money,” said Senator Becker, noting that the San Mateo County Community College District is an example of why the legislation is needed.
In the college district, about 6,000 students are eligible for the California Promise Scholars Program, which provides first-time college students with multi-year tuition support, support through individualized counseling, textbook vouchers, and food and transportation incentives. Under current law, the district can only fund 2,000 of the 6,000 students who are eligible for the program.
“SB659 is a win-win-win for students, districts and the state,” said Michael E. Claire, the chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District, writing in support of the bill.
Chancellor Claire, whose district inspired the bill, wrote: “At the SMCCCD, the flexibility to use unrestricted general fund dollars to support students will have significant impacts throughout our community and will allow our district to bridge inequities throughout our county by making college more accessible and affordable for students, particularly those in marginalized and underrepresented communities. SB659, if passed, would be an important and impactful tool for community college districts to address local inequities in serving the broader needs of students.”
The Senate Education Committee’s 7-0 vote on both bills sends the legislation to the Senate Appropriations Committee for fiscal review.
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