September 2015 – Vol. 28 No. 1

The History of the Graduation Requirement Mandate

Posted: Thursday, March 1st, 2012

by Carolyn Holcroft

To truly understand the context behind the current dialog and debate regarding the proposed graduation requirement mandate elimination, we have to go back to 1979. That year California voters passed Proposition 4, thus requiring the State of California to reimburse local governments (including schools) for any increased costs resulting from new programs or higher levels of service required by state law, technically labeled a “mandate.” (This was ultimately codified in Government Code section 17561.) Right now there are 51 mandates on the books for which the state must reimburse schools.

This background helps inform the current situation because a mandate was effectively created when California Education Code section 51225.3 (a)(1)(C) was added by Chapter 498, Statutes of 1983. Prior to 1986, California high school students were required to complete only one high school science course in order to graduate. However, §51225.3 increased the minimum requirement to two science courses – one in physical science and one in biological science. The Commission on State Mandates (CSM) subsequently identified this new requirement as a mandate in November, 1986, and then in March 1988, they adopted the “Parameters and Guidelines,” which formally established the mandate and defined which costs associated with the additional science requirement were eligible for reimbursement.

When the mandate was originally imposed, the costs associated with requiring an additional science course were predicted to be reasonably within the state’s financial resources. This changed, though, when the San Diego Unified School District finally won a law suit against the CSM in 2004. The case was Sacramento County Superior Court Case No. 03CS0140 and had begun years earlier in the 1980s. The SDUSD (and several other schools) had filed reimbursement claims in which they included salary costs incurred from staffing the additional science course. However, the state asserted such expenditures were excluded because the cost of staffing the second science course could be offset by cancelling other “elective” courses – that is, the additional science course could be offered in lieu of, rather than in addition to, other non-core curricular offerings. After years of legal battle the court finally concluded in 2004 that the language in 51225.3 only required a second science course and did not mandate the elimination of any other curriculum in lieu of the second science course requirement.

The second major occurrence leading to the current crisis was a 2008 court decision in the case, “California School Boards Association (CSBA) vs. State of California.” The troubles precipitating this suit began in 2002 when the California Legislature began the practice of appropriating $1,000 for each K-12 mandate and “deferring” payment of the remaining balances, asserting that this met the legal obligation for reimbursement at least temporarily, and that the balances would be paid at some future (unspecified) time. In 2007, CSBA sued the state for the remaining monies and requested the court prohibit the state from continuing their practice of deferral. On December 4, 2008, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the practice of deferral is unconstitutional and this decision was subsequently upheld on appeal in a legal opinion dated February 9, 2011. However, the court did not order the state to cough up the rest of the money it owed, estimated at the time to be approximately $900 million for all underfunded mandates, stating that this would be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine.

In light of the 2004 and 2007 court decisions, the CSM was obliged to amend the parameters and guidelines for the additional science class mandate. Amended parameters and guidelines were initially adopted in November 2008, but then “corrected” parameters and guidelines were issued in December 2008, and it is this document that outlines the current rules for mandate-related reimbursement. These amended versions changed and clarified the way that school districts can claim increased costs associated with the additional science class, such as teaching salary costs and acquisition of space, equipment, and supplies. It’s especially important to note that the most recently adopted parameters and guidelines amendment is effective back to January 1, 2005 – that is, school districts can submit adjusted reimbursement claims retroactive all the way back to January 2005. The State Controller’s Office (SCO) just released the “Claiming Instructions” for the amended claims parameters in July 2011 and not surprisingly, school districts are submitting revised claims for additional costs not allowed under the original parameters and guidelines, and these are predicted to lead to a tremendous increase in cost to the state. At this point the mandate requiring a second science class is estimated to be one of the top two most expensive mandates the state must fund, perhaps exceeding $200 million.

Coming back to the present day…it is rumored that Governor Brown’s office is looking to modify that statute, as recommended in the LAO report, to maintain the requirement of two years of science to graduate from high school without it being a reimbursable mandate. Additionally, the Department of Finance still has litigation pending against the Commission on State Mandates (Sacramento Superior Court Case # 34-2010-80000529-CU-WM-GDS, Department 31) regarding the guidelines the CSM adopted in 2008. This case is currently scheduled for hearing on June 1.

CSTA will continue to pursue this issue and keep the membership informed of new developments.


Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2 Responses

  1. […] by $200 million, eliminating the mandate for the second year of science for graduation would be a step back to 1986 when the second year of science was added to the graduation requirements. Elimination of the mandate could be seen by low performing schools as permission to drop science […]

  2. […] The History of the Graduation Requirement Mandate […]

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More Than 1,400 Science Educators Prepare to Convene in Sacramento

Posted: Thursday, September 17th, 2015

by Deb Farkas

As we get ready to go full steam ahead with implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards and eagerly await the new California Science Framework, there is no better place to be in early October than here in Sacramento, where you will find workshops, speakers, field experiences, short courses and more to inspire and re-energize your teaching. If you are not one of the more than 1,000 teachers to have registered, I invite you to do so today.

Don’t miss opening speaker, Ainissa Ramirez. Author, engineer and science evangelist, Dr. Ramirez will encourage us to ignite the spark of curiosity in all of our students and get them excited about science. Former astronaut José Hernández will close our conference with an account of his journey from migrant farm worker to engineer to mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Discovery, and his work inspiring children to “reach for the stars.” We are also pleased to offer you a variety of highly regarded focus speakers in science and education. Learn about a strength-based approach to early science education, bringing deep sea data to the classroom, ZomBees, engaging students in engineering, and literacy, non-verbal communication patterns and social justice in the science classroom. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Trying NGSS with Paper Clips and Gummy Worms

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

by Joanne Michael

By now, most teachers have heard of NGSS, know that it is not going away, and have realized they will be teaching this new set of standards within the next few years. While some are excited at the possibility of new happenings, others are terrified at the prospect of having to change curriculum that they have spent years fine-tuning and tweaking. A few districts are implementing NGSS early, working out the kinks and creating guides for the rest of the state, but what about the teachers that want to venture out and try the new curriculum without the support of the entire district? It seems daunting, but there are some ways to ease into the NGSS world. Learn More…

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is the K-5 science specialist at Meadows Elementary in Manhattan Beach, CA, and CSTA’s intermediate grades 3-5) Director.

High School Teachers – We Need Your Help!

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

CSTA and its partners are trying to get a sense of what high school science looks like across the state. We are interested in knowing how many years of science your district requires for graduation, what the typical course taking patterns are, and a sense of the high school science teaching workforce. If you are in a position to answer these questions please take the survey. If you can’t provide that information we ask that you share this link with your district science leader or other appropriate administrator. It should not take very long to complete (less than 5 minutes) and the information will help CSTA and our partners as we plan NGSS activities and support. Thank you for filling out the survey yourself or for directing it to the appropriate person.

Take Survey

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA Honors Rising Stars, Advocates, and Distinguished Contributors to Science Education in 2015

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Legislator of the Year, Future Science Teacher, Honorary Memberships, and the new Bertrand Advocacy Award. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2015 California Science Education Conference on October 2 – 4 in Sacramento. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them! Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Northern Happenings for September–Region 1

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

September already – allow me to add my welcome back wish to the others you are hearing across all 29 counties that make up CSTA Region 1!


CSTA Regions Map

It has certainly been a busy summer with California Science Project events across the region, and lots of activity at Math Science Partnership Grant projects as well. As you come back to class this fall, consider your summer learning, and think about how you might share it at a future CSTA conference! This year you will no doubt be trying out what you learned in your classes. By next spring you will know what you could share with colleagues at the 2016 Science Educators Conference to be held in Palm Springs. It seems a long time from now, but if you have the idea in mind as you teach your students, you can be on the lookout for what would be wonderful to share with other K-12 teachers in California. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.