Legislative Update – School Start Time Bill Likely to Pass?
A high-profile bill to mandate middle and high school start times across California appears to have a potential path to becoming law.
Senator Anthony Portantino (D - Pasadena) is pushing SB 328, which would prohibit high schools from beginning the school day prior to 8:30 AM and prohibit middle schools from beginning the school day prior to 8:00 AM.
Summary of the bill. The bill applies to traditional and charter schools, but exempts “rural school districts.” However, there is currently no definition of a “rural school district” in the Education Code and SB 328 does not define the term. The exemption does not appear to apply to “rural” charter schools.
SB 328 allows schools to offer courses or activities to a limited number of students before the official start of the school day (like a zero period), so long as those courses or activities do not generate average daily attendance (ADA).
The bill requires these start time changes take effect no later than July 1, 2022, or the date on which a school district’s or charter school’s respective collective bargaining agreement that is operative on January 1, 2020 expires, whichever is later.
History of the issue. Senator Portantino carried a nearly identical bill during the 2017-18 Legislative Session (also SB 328). That bill initially failed passage fairly spectacularly on the Assembly Floor in late 2017 by a vote of 26-30, with 23 abstentions (bills need at least 41 votes to pass off the floor). The bill was granted reconsideration.
Many considered the bill dead throughout early 2018, but the political calculation changed when Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D – San Diego) appointed Senator Portantino Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, widely considered the second most powerful position in the Senate behind the Pro Tem.
Senator Portantino wasted little time leveraging his powerful position to influence Assembly Members to support his bill. In late 2018, almost a full year after the initial floor vote, SB 328 (2017-18) was brought up for reconsideration, where it passed with exactly the 41 votes needed for passage down to Governor Brown's desk. Many members of the State Assembly changed their vote despite objections from local school boards, administrators, and labor unions.
Governor Brown, a staunch proponent of local control, vetoed SB 328 with the following message:
“This is a one-size-fits-all approach that is opposed by teachers and school boards. Several schools have already moved to later start times. Others prefer beginning the school day earlier. These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.”
The opposition. Senator Portantino has been advancing this change against the headwinds of the education community, which overwhelmingly opposes the state mandating a later school start time.
The main arguments in opposition to the bill relate to local control and the ability of local communities to address a myriad of issues that affect families, student wellness, and the broader community. These include issues related to bus routes and locally negotiated bus usage times (usually agreements with other local municipal agencies), which could potentially leave some students without the means to travel to school. Other potential issues include impacts to before and after school programs, sports offerings after school (resulting from later school end times), block scheduling, and collective bargaining.
The bill also raises the issue of equity for single parent and working families. There is a growing concern that by pushing school start times later, economically disadvantaged families will face new logistical issues that result in no change to the students sleep time, as the bill intends, as parents will continue to drop students at school at the same time. The argument is that this then creates a policy that disproportionately benefits affluent families.
For these reasons, the bill is opposed by a number of labor, management, and charter school groups, including:
· Association of California School Administrators (ACSA)
· California School Boards Association (CSBA)
· California School Business Officials (CASBO)
· Small School Districts Association (SSDA)
· California Teachers Association (CTA)
· Charter Schools Development Center
· A number of school districts and county offices of education
The support. Senator Portantino is passionate about this bill, citing reputable sleep studies that show adolescents are disproportionately impacted by the effects of sleep deprivation and that school start times that begin at 8:30 AM or later reverse these effects. Portantino beleives his bill will save lives by reducing suicides, accidents, etc.
To be fair to the opponents of SB 328, few take issue with author’s assertion that science backs-up the benefits of additional sleep for adolescents. However, they argue there are more appropriate ways to address the problem, including earlier bed times, parents regulating screen time in the evenings, etc.
Among others, SB 328 is supported by:
· American Academy of Pediatrics
· California District Attorneys Association
· California Medical Association (CMA)
· Police Chiefs
· State Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
· Individual school districts
Governor Newsom restarts the start time debate for 2019. During his campaign for Governor, Newsom made remarks to several groups indicating his inclination to support a requirement that schools start later. These signals gave Senator Portantino added motivation to reintroduce the issue during Newsom’s first year as Governor. On February 15, 2019, Portantino cleverly reintroduced his start time bill with same bill number from the prior session.
Initially, many thought the bill would die in the Senate Education Committee, as Chair Connie Leyva (D - Chino) expressed concerns with the mandate. However, Portantino was able to “roll the chair” by securing support from the two Republicans on the committee, along with Democrat Senators Richard Pan (D - Sacramento) and Mike McGuire (D – Santa Rosa).
The bill went on to pass out of the Senate Appropriations committee, which Portantino chairs, and then passed off the Senate Floor.
O’Donnell vs. Portantino. Early in 2019, Assembly Education Committee Chair Patrick O’Donnell (D – Long Beach) reiterated his strong opposition to Portantino’s start time bill. When SB 328 passed out of the Senate, O’Donnell attempted to exercise a relatively new rule in the State Assembly that allows chairs of committees to not set bills for a hearing (effectively killing those bills without a vote), a maneuver that created no shortage of controversy. However, Capitol insiders say Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon pushed O’Donnell to set the bill for a hearing.
In mid-May, despite significant opposition and a “no” vote from the chair, SB 328 passed the Assembly Education Committee with exactly the four votes it needed. Republican Assembly Member Kevin Kiley (R – Rocklin), after opposing the bill in 2018, changed his vote to give it the final vote needed to pass. Kiley joined Assembly Members Ash Kalra (D – San Jose), Shirley Weber (D – San Diego), and Kevin McCarty (D – Sacramento) in voting for the bill. Assembly Members Christy Smith (D – Santa Clarita) and Tyler Diep (R – Westminster) abstained from the bill.
What’s next? SB 328 is currently pending before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it’s fate will be decided by Friday, August 30th (the deadline for bills to pass out of fiscal committees).
SB 328 has a hefty price tag, effectively mandating local districts address a number of cost issues related to transportation, sports/extracurricular activities, energy use, and collective bargaining, to name a few. However, the price tag wasn’t a sufficient argument to stop the bill in 2018 and its hard to see how that has changed in 2019.
Because Senator Portantino is the chair of the corresponding committee on the Senate side, he has the upper hand, particularly since this bill is a clear top priority for him. It would be costly, in terms of potential retribution from Portantino, for Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego, and chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee) to hold Portantino’s start time bill in her committee. While it would be the easiest place for the Assembly to kill the controversial bill, it appears a long shot the bill can be stopped there.
If the bill passes the Assembly Appropriations Committee, it would next be considered on the Assembly Floor, where it passed last year with the minimum number of votes needed. While there are a number of new members in the Assembly with no voting history on the issue, one dynamic that is working in the bill’s favor in 2019 is a significant increase in support from Republicans. For example, the bill received unanimous Republican support in the first policy hearing of 2019 and Assembly Member Kevin Kiley, who opposed the bill last year, switched to support. It is remarkable Republicans are supporting the bill at this level given the opposition is leading with the local control argument that has long been the bastion of Republican lawmakers.
From the perspective of the opposition, it is looking increasingly necessary for Governor Newsom to either intervene in the legislation before it reaches his desk (requesting changes), or veto the bill.
Aside from the charter school reform bills, the start time bill is easily one of the most watched bills of 2019. There is a lot of work being done to affect the trajectory of the start time issue by stakeholders. We will keep you posted on changes.
In the meantime, please let us know if we can provide any additional information.
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