January 2015 – Vol. 27 No. 5

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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From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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