By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – California lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk this week that would require cash-strapped school districts to run an “equity impact analysis” before closing a school.
If enacted, supporters say it will require school districts to be transparent about the impact of closures beyond the fiscal cost.
Lawmakers advanced Assembly Bill 1912 on Tuesday, which requires school districts to develop an equity impact analysis with metrics that analyze the condition of a school facility, the operating cost of the school, special programs available at the school, pupil demographics and transportation needs of students, among other things, before considering closure or consolidation.
The bill’s author, Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, introduced the measure in response to a decision by Oakland Unified School District in February to close seven schools, merge two and cut grades from two others over the next two years, as previously reported by CBS Bay Area. The school district decided to close and consolidate these schools to access money promised in the 2021-2022 budget, according to Assemblymember Bonta.
The decision was criticized by community members and students who said there was no community engagement or consideration of how school closures disproportionately impact Black students in Oakland, according to Assemblymember Bonta.
“School closures affect more than its students’ education. It changes the landscape of a community,” Assemblymember Bonta wrote in support of the bill. “If the decisions are made without an equity lens, the results can be catastrophic for communities of color and student populations struggling to achieve academic success.”
Assemblymember Bonta added that her bill directs school districts to conduct an equity impact study “to avoid another district in extreme financial distress from taking precipitous action in closing schools.”
The bill garnered several supporters, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) of California and the California Teachers’ Association.
“School closures carry high social and economic costs for communities – with lower income and Black and Brown communities facing the largest costs,” SEIU Local 1021 President Joseph Bryant said Tuesday. “School districts should not be able to close schools unilaterally without taking into account the impact on the community and the students the school serves.
“AB 1912 is a simple bill requiring school districts to be transparent with communities about the impact of closures beyond dollars and cents.”
A bill analysis said it would apply to all districts still in the process of being repaid for an emergency apportionment, which a district receives if it’s unable to meet financial obligations without a loan. In addition to Oakland Unified, three other school districts fall into this category – Inglewood Unified School District, South Monterey County Joint Union High School District and Vallejo City Unified School District.
The bill had no registered opposition as it made its way through the Legislature. It is now headed to Gov. Newsom’s desk.