Education Policy – Tony Thurmond, Superintendent of Public Instruction

CAPITOL WEEKLY PODCAST: This Special Episode of the Capitol Weekly Podcast was recorded live at Capitol Weekly’s Conference on Education Policy which was held in Sacramento on Tuesday, November 7, 2023

 This is the KEYNOTE – CALIFORNIA SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION TONY THURMOND

Introduction by Rich Ehisen, Capitol Weekly

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

RICH EHISEN: As you saw in the program, California is the biggest school system – biggest public school system in the country, it is a massive job, and it has many number of issues to deal with as we’ve seen in our panels today, as we’ll see in the last panel right after this. So we’re really fortunate today to have State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond here to talk about some of those issues. We’re gonna save a little time at the end for your questions, so please, if you’ve got something on your mind, get ready when we go to that. So, without further ado, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond.

TONY THURMOND: Good afternoon, good afternoon. I trust that you’ve been having riveting conversations about all things education today? Very good. Well, hopefully, we can have some additional conversation about more things in education. One of my, things I fear the most is competing with lunch, and so I’ll do my best to keep brief and look forward to some things that you all may have.

Thanks to everyone at Capitol Weekly for putting this together, and for giving us part of your day. I think you all know that we’re in a place in the world where students are still struggling in a lot of places. Not just in California but in the world. If you look at many groups of students, they struggled before the pandemic. Many of their struggles were exacerbated during the pandemic. And I’m sure you saw the release of state test scores that reflect for many of those students, those struggles continue nationwide.

“I was on the free lunch program. I was on food stamps and government cheese”

What I like to think about is what are we gonna do about it? I think that’s the most important thing we can talk about. And while every state is dealing with these challenges, I don’t think any state is as well poised as California to help our students do better. Not the least of which are the programs that we have in Universal TK. If you think about what we can do in this state for every three and four-year-old to have preschool, we know that’s a game changer.

The $500 million that we’re investing into having reading coaches and specialists at our schools to get to reading by third grade, something that people have talked about in my entire career, really. I think that we have the ability to get there. And we know that reading is a gateway skill. And that when you learn to read, you can read to learn anything, even math. And so, I think that there are great things that are ahead for us, but we have to be strategic. California has allocated billions for these programs and for expanded learning. But if we don’t link all those programs together in one framework, as opposed to just individual grants, we could miss the mark.

Capitol Weekly’s Conference on Education. Keynote by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Photo by Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly

And so, for those of you who work with legislators, if you’ve worked with committees, you lobby committees, we are asking every district that received those grants to align them, and then to report on the impacts of those grants. And providing us with comparable measurable outcomes. We have to be asking the question every year: are we seeing a positive impact on test scores? Are we seeing… Not that test scores are everything… but they provide one of the few measurement opportunities that we have to know how our students are doing, and to know how our subgroups are doing. And so, for those of you who work in committees, we don’t wanna create an onerous set of reporting requirements for our school district, but we want some requirements. And we want them to be aligned to outcome measures that we can have and report on.

And so, our kids have been through a lot, but they’re very resilient, and I believe that, because I, having grown up the way I did, I know that young people can overcome their challenges. I’m the descendant of immigrants and slaves, and my grandparents cleaned houses in places like Panama before coming to New York City, and to ultimately to California. My dad’s a Vietnam vet who never came home from the war, I found my father on the internet just before my 40th, birthday. My mom was a teacher in San Jose who raised four kids by herself until she could not, she got very sick. My mom lost her battle to cancer when I was six years old, and her four kids got split up, two stayed in California, and myself and my five-year-old brother, we ended up in Philadelphia. And so, yeah, we had a hard time.

In my household, we went without food many times. I was on the free lunch program. I was on food stamps and government cheese. I’m hopeful that they’re not serving you government cheese in your lunches today. If you haven’t had it, it’s a box of cheese, a block in thick plastic that if you get through it, it might be the best grilled cheese or quesadilla you ever had, but you got to get through it first. The slice of cheese on my sandwiches were like this, but when you’re hungry, you’re grateful. These programs helped my family to overcome poverty.

The most important program for me in terms of helping my family overcome poverty was getting a great education. And let’s face it, more families are sliding into poverty right now as we speak. We have 200,000 homeless students in our state, 10,000 who are unaccompanied. And so while we all deal with challenges, there are some who are dealing with even greater challenges.

“I’m also sponsoring AB938 with Assemblymember Muratsuchi… it would increase salaries for all educators by 50% by the year 2030”

I know that you all had a panel or are gonna have a panel about teacher recruitment. From my standpoint, even though we have these great resources, if we don’t have educators to lead these programs, and how do we get through, like Universal TK. We need 10,000 educators for that. We need more classroom teachers. We need folks who have experience in computer science. We need math teachers. We need teachers. We need arts teachers.

We got Prop 28, which means we get a billion dollars more every year for arts. We have to make sure we have educators, both teachers and classified staff, who can help to lead those programs.

And so, historically, districts have done all the recruitment for teacher recruitment. The 1,000 districts, we’ve decided to step in to help and complement what our districts do. We’ve never had a staff person at the department whose job is just recruitment, and so we’ve created our own recruitment strategy to amplify the resources that exist.

We’ve added a new position at the department that’s just about recruitment to build some strategies. I launched a statewide teacher recruitment initiative so that organizations that do recruitment work together, so we shoulder the load together. But we have resources. We have a $20,000 scholarship for anybody who wants to become a classroom teacher to get a credential or who wants to become a mental health clinician. And so, we have resources that other states don’t. We have all kinds of partnerships there. I sponsored a bill, SB765,that asked to do two things. One, increase the residency stipend from $20,000 to $40,000. And that has been incorporated into the budget that was passed in May, so that is now the law.

“As a former School Board member I can tell you, I believe it is the hardest job in elected politics”

And the other thing that that bill did was allow retired teachers to stay in the classroom without experiencing a penalty to their pension. And people always say why is that so important? ‘Cause right now, while we’re recruiting teachers, having a retired person who is experienced, who’s available to be a sub or to work in our schools is critical. And so, that’s become the law.

I’m also sponsoring AB938 with Assemblymember Muratsuchi. This is a bill sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers that is a two-year bill. And it would increase salaries for all educators by 50% by the year 2030. A game changer. When you talk about recruitment, you can’t talk about recruitment without talking about compensation. It’s not the only thing but it is certainly important.

I understand you’re having some discussions about school boards and their role. As a former School Board member I can tell you, I believe it is the hardest job in elected politics. When you’re doing good things, there’s no one in the chamber. It’s crickets. Let there be a discussion about school closures, everybody up in there, and they’re all mad. Everybody’s just mad.

“Somebody said the greatest thing you ever did was get kicked out of a School Board meeting. I’m like, ‘If that’s what it takes to defend our students, I will do that every day of the week.’”

And if it wasn’t hard enough, now we have these cultural wars. You have School Board majorities that are making statements that are blatantly discriminatory against students of color and against LGBTQ+ kids. And they’re not making any bones about it. Groups like Moms of Liberty and others have given a playbook to school boards that have said that if they can’t win at Congress, they’ll win School Board majorities, and they will enact policies that violate the rights of students and could get them hurt.

There’s data that proves that 40% of the kids who identify as LGBTQ+ have considered suicide. Three out of 10 of our kids who are runaways and homeless have been pushed out of their own homes ’cause they were rejected for their gender identity. We’re in a state that doesn’t even teach Critical Race Theory, but we have School Board members that have banned Critical Race Theory.

When I meet with these students all across the state, they tell me they’re afraid of their own school boards. What does it mean to a student of color when someone bans something that’s not even taught? It means that those School Board majorities think that they don’t belong here.

Capitol Weekly’s Conference on Education. Keynote by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Photo by Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly

Those School Board members, instead of grinding down on kids and hurting kids, they should be focused on the oath that they took to protect and defend the Constitution of the State of California. That means all students. Instead they’re threatening our kids.

And so, I got a call from some students at Chino Unified. They said, “Hey, we’re really scared. Would you come? Our board is considering this policy, a forced outing policy.” And so I showed up. I did everything I was supposed to do. They said everybody gets one minute to speak. I spoke for one minute. I took my seat. And then, the board member starts jaw jacking at me and calling me all kinds of terrible things. So, I went back up to the dais.

I’m like, “Are you gonna roll the video? I know you wanna see it.” Somebody said the greatest thing you ever did was get kicked out of a School Board meeting. I’m like, “If that’s what it takes to defend our students, I will do that every day of the week.” I’m standing up there. I get back up to the dais. The School Board president shuts down the meeting.

She says, “You campaigned against my opponent. You don’t get to speak here.” Next thing I know, I’m surrounded by five or six uniformed individuals, some armed, who are telling me I have to go. And so, again, our schools have enough challenges that our School Board members don’t need to be making up attacks.

There is no school district in this state that is saying a child can transition without their parent involvement. I believe in parent rights. And those discussions should happen when they can amongst parents and their children. But there’s no need for our school districts to invoke policies that teachers can’t even implement.

Many people have told me that growing up as an LGBTQ+ person that they didn’t always have someone they can talk to. But sometimes they had a supportive teacher they could talk to. These policies take away those caring adults for some who don’t have it.

And so, I think that this is just bigotry. We have to call it what it is. And we have to stand up against it. We have to elect progressive School Board members. I can say that, right? But I think we also have to train School Board members to help them be clear on what their role is and what resources are available to them to do what is already an incredibly difficult job.

Our schools, even despite all the money that’s come through COVID from the federal government and the state, many of our schools still have a structural financial imbalance. They just don’t take in enough money to pay for the staff that they need.

They have more schools than they can manage. They’re dealing with declining enrollment. School Board members need to be really aware and hip to these things. And what are the ways to help get their districts out of receivership?

 I joined the School Board in 2008. It was the West Contra Costa Unified School District. It was in receivership, probably the first district in our state to go into receivership. In those four years that I served on that board, we helped to get that district out of receivership. We paid off our loan. We paid it all back and said, “Hey, we’re done with that.”

Do you know here we are now in 2023, West Contra Costa is facing being in receivership again because of the financial pressure that districts experience and declining enrollment. And so, I’m hopeful that the conversations you heard today point to the ways that we can support School Board members to be able to handle these challenges and provide leadership, not to ban books. We should not be banning books in California. We shouldn’t allow books to be banned anywhere, especially when the intent is to discriminate.

But the bill that I wrote and helped to get passed, AB1078, says that if any district bans a book with the intent of discriminatory practice against students of color, LGBTQ+ kids, that they will pay a significant fine to mitigate the impacts of those bans.

There’ll be a lot of ballot measures. I’m sponsoring at least three of them between now and the next two elections. I’m sponsoring a ballot measure that will teach personal finance to our students so that we can help more of our students stay out of debt. You can teach any subject with personal finance. Given where things are in math for many of our students, I think this is gonna be a great addition.

“Education was the promise that changed my life”

I’m gonna be sponsoring legislation this year that calls for $500 million to provide more training to our teachers in math and provides more training to those who teach reading. So that we can… Professional development is one of the key ways to help boost student performance. And so, I’m saying let’s go for it all. Let’s say that our students are coming out of a difficult place. Let’s make sure that we help them.

I’m also sponsoring a ballot measure… I’m sorry. A bill, that will create computer science graduation requirement. That bill will be introduced in this year’s legislative cycle. And let’s face it, there are jobs that students can earn great careers and be in great careers and earn, but we don’t have enough folks preparing them for that. So, I have a bill that will create a computer science graduation requirement.

I’m sponsoring a ballot measure that we are developing now that will generate more revenue for our institutions of higher education. Our community colleges, our CSUs, our UCs. There just isn’t enough money. And you cannot balance our higher education budget simply off of tuition increases, especially when you have many students who struggle just to keep up with the cost of going to school. Many of them are unhoused themselves. Many of them are food insecure. Many of them struggle just to get the gas money to go to a CSU or UC. Our CSU is potentially striking as we speak, because there isn’t enough money to pay faculty and staff.

And if we don’t find a way to provide better wages in this high-cost environment, our CSUs and our UCs will stop being the leaders of research that we need to address healthcare issues, to address homelessness, to keep California at the head of all states.

And so, these are the things that we’re doing. I’m introducing legislation to provide more housing units for those who are homeless, especially our students. There are units that you can get and then wraparound supports. I have a two-year bill that is also a bill for more educator housing. I passed one already in 2019, and we’ve built affordable housing. We have the ability to build housing for educators, for our workforce, for the missing middle, for nurses and first responders and others who don’t qualify for most of the affordable housing programs that we have.

And finally, I’ve launched a paid job training program for young people between the ages of 13 and 24, so they can earn while they’re learning about a career pathway. If you look at the crime and safety issues taking place in our nation right now and in our state, we’ve got to make sure that young people know that there’s an alternative.

Capitol Weekly’s Conference on Education. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Photo by Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly

There’s a spike in youth crime, and we have to make sure that we give them a chance to earn while they learn, because once they have contact with the criminal justice system, they’re at risk for re-offending and we don’t want that.

And so, we’ve been busy thinking about some of the bills and ballot measures, thinking about how to work with School Board members. And of course, what do we do to accelerate learning for the students in our state? And we’re gonna work with all 1000 districts on plans to help them do that.

People often forget that this is a Local Control state and that the districts in their own boards make the decisions about what they pursue. But I accept a responsibility to help districts help their students get better. I can’t go down a single grocery store aisle anywhere without someone stopping me and saying, “Can I talk to you about my school?” And I accept that, because that might be the only time that they see someone who is connected to education.

I don’t waste any time trying to explain to them about Local Control. I just say, “Give me the information. Let me call that superintendent.”

And then I call that superintendent and say, “Handle your business.” No, I’m just kidding! I just call them and say, “Look, we need your help and we can help you to help these families. I hope that you all will also share that the education profession is a great one. It is difficult, but that there are opportunities.” These scholarships that I mentioned to you anyone can get. Just call me, just 1-800, “Where are you at?” and I’ll tell you how to get the $20,000 scholarship. Or if you just put it out there to people that you serve through your networks, just tell them to go to TeachInCA@cde.ca.gov. TeachInCA@cde.ca.gov.

“I defeated that measure. That measure’s not coming outta committee.”

And someone will call them back and explain to them how you get the credential, how you get into a teacher enrollment program. If you’re a classified staff member, how you can complete a degree. We have a scholarship for classified staff to get a degree. We’re facing many challenges, but there’s a great moment ahead of us. And I think that there’s great things that we can do.

Education saved my life. It’s why I left the legislature. I still have eight years that I could have served in the state assembly. I loved my job in the assembly. When I realized there was an opportunity to serve all the time, focus on education and youth, I said, that’s the job for me.

You know what everybody told me? They said, “Please do not take that job.” They said, “It will destroy your political career.” I thought that was odd. And then the pandemic hit. Now, I see why they said that, right? But I have no regrets, because education was the promise that changed my life. And we’re keeping the promise for six million students and ultimately for 40 million Californians from whom the American dream is slipping away. And we can do something about that. And I intend to see that we do that together.

And so, I’m excited that you all are here. I hope to see you in your… In the Capitol or in your respective offices, or if you’re writing a story, and that we find ways together to help keep that promise for six million students and for 40 million Californians. Thanks so much. Thanks for having me here today. Thank you.

RE: All right. Well, thank you very much, superintendent. I know y’all have some questions, so let me see some hands. When you do get my attention or get Tim’s attention, I’m gonna start out with one though. I’m gonna throw a political question at you.

TT: Okay.

RE: Because, well, there’s a lot I could throw at you, but let’s start with one. There’s a proposed constitutional amendment. It’s still in committee, hasn’t gone anywhere, that would make your current job an appointed one, not an elected one.

TT: Yeah. I defeated that measure. That measure’s not coming outta committee. I’m just gonna be honest about that.

I thought that that was a shortsighted policy. I think what you should do is curate the State Superintendent, give the State Superintendent more ability to do more. I’ve known from day one that this job has limited structural abilities to affect what happens at any other district, but that you get the blame.

And I always say, “I’ll take the blame as long as I have ideas, help and energy and resources for people to get something done.” And I’ve had to use the bully pulpit to get things done. I sponsored 20 bills last year. Nearly every one of them signed into law.

And people say, “Why do you do that?” They say, “Are you a frustrated legislator?” I’m like, “No,” because I get that the Department of Education, right now, its main function right now is compliance about what districts do and monitoring.

And that’s important. But districts need help. They need a way forward for how to close the opportunity gap, how to close the achievement gap. And so, I’ve used legislation and task forces and the bully pulpit to get that done. And so from my standpoint, it won’t affect me. That bill would not have affected me directly. It would go into effect for the next State Superintendent. I’m termed out, I can’t run for this office another time.

But as I would be leaving, I would not wanna stand by and see the office actually weakened when it could be strengthened. And so, I think there’s a reason why our constitution has an elected State Superintendent. And I think it’s important for us to strengthen it so that the state sup has some budgetary resources to work with, has some ability to get things done. And until that happens, I think it will be limiting to a future state superintendent to make that person appointed, because now they can’t sponsor legislation. They’re under the thumb of whatever a governor tells them to do or not do.

And I have a great relationship with this governor. We work together hand in hand on so much legislation. But could you imagine a state superintendent who wants to lean in and work on programs that require money? And they’re under the thumb of a conservative governor who says, “We shouldn’t spend any money,” and now that person has become limited. And so, that’s why I oppose that measure. And if it gets outta committee, I’ll be ready to oppose it again. Is that political?

RE: Kind of, yes.

TT: Okay. Alright.

RE: Good answer though. We have a question right here.

SADALIA KING: Hi. My name is Sadalia King. I’m with Catalyst California, which is the racial justice nonprofit based out in LA. My question is, well, you’ve highlighted your, the ballot measures you’re prioritizing and some of the bills as well. I was curious if you had anything also on your radar for the budget next year, given the fact that we had like twice pushback the tax date, and I think it’s actually due this month now. And then also in the impending recession and revenues being lower than anticipated.

Capitol Weekly’s Conference on Education. Sadalia King has a question for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Photo by Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly

Do you have a strategy or like… And also folks are in general just reporting back to like the governor and his administration about their priorities for next year… So I’m curious, like, do you have anything at least even at the high level, like what you’re strategizing around and prioritizing?

TT: Yeah, I do. Yeah. I would say priority wise I’m focused on homelessness and homeless students. And, tomorrow -not tomorrow, Thursday –  we’re hosting a summit on how to help homeless students. And one of the things that I intend to do in our legislation is fund more subsidized housing units for young people who are homeless, but to make sure that there are supports. Because our young people who are homeless are at risk for becoming homeless adults. And we have to help them.

“After Prop 13, you can see a significant decline that we have never recovered from in terms of per pupil spending”

And so, I have been working on issues that I think are at the forefront of what we do in the state, like getting more revenue for higher education. Our institutions of higher education have been neglected and we need a new master plan. And one of the first bills I sponsored as a freshman legislator was a bill that was called Pay It Forward.

It’s a bill that would allow a student to essentially go to college for free for four years. And then, when they graduate and they get a job, they start to make payments back to the state. That payment becomes a pot of money that allows future students to be able to go to college and get an education. And so, I’m gonna be introducing that bill again this year. And I’m very focused on what we do around higher education so that people can get a chance to earn and learn.

I’m focused on what’s happening for our state and our state economy. We lose, businesses that leave. Many of our cities are struggling because of the impacts of crime, the impacts of the pandemic and what’s perceived as the cost of doing business in our state.

So I’ve reached out to our state Chamber of Commerce and others to say, let’s establish policies that will allow the state to get the revenue that we need, but to do so in a way that we won’t lose businesses and employers ’cause those are our jobs. And my premise is that for people to be more successful personally in this state, they have to be able to earn more money. And so, I’ll be looking at every revenue measure that you can think of. The higher education one.

We have to have another conversation about what’s gonna happen with Prop 13. We can’t sit here and talk about education and not talk about the impacts to education from day one when Prop 13 was passed. When Prop 13… Pre-Prop 13, California was probably in the top five of all states and per pupil spending, maybe even number one.

After Prop 13, you can see a significant decline that we have never recovered from in terms of per pupil spending, in terms of money for cities and counties, that they struggle to provide basic services for Californians. And so, we need a new master plan that lets us think about higher education, pre-K through 12 education, our infrastructure, healthcare. We need that kind of leadership. And those are the kinds of things that I’m prioritizing going forward.

RE: We have a question here in the back.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: I just wanted to know a little bit more about the computer science graduation requirements. So would that be a separate requirement and not tied into anything like math or English currently? And then I’ll have a follow up possibly after.

TT: Gotcha. You’re like, “Let see how you do on the first one. I might have another round two for you.”

We’re still working through the details of the bill, but the intent is to have more of a standalone computer science graduation requirement. That’s not to say that you couldn’t use computer science to be embedded in other subjects like mathematics, but we know that California is sliding. And falling behind. There are a 100,000 jobs right now in various fields that if we don’t do something in a different way, we won’t be able to fill them.

And you can just name it, right? Even before you get to jobs in AI, right? There’s cybersecurity that we’ve fallen behind in. Are we producing enough engineers and others who can work in computer science? California doesn’t have a credential right now for someone who’s trained in computer science. And so, we have to do the work of creating a graduation requirement and training the workforce and then making sure that California students are getting the information that they need to know to work in the jobs of tomorrow.

And so for those reasons, I’ve created this STEAM advisory council that’s gonna have people from technology on it who are in the field advising me and our schools on what our students should be learning so they can keep pace with where the field is headed. Because we’ve fallen behind and we have to accelerate so that our students are ready for those jobs of tomorrow.

RE: You have earned the follow up. Good job. [laughter]

TT: Earned.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay. So, I’ll follow up for that. That’s super helpful to know and that helps understand the proposed bill for the following year a little bit more. But the follow up to that would be how would… Would there be an incentive to this bill then? Because there are a lot of rural districts that don’t have computers and lack infrastructure.

So how would we focus on those looking just at the equity lens ’cause we wanna make sure that all students could achieve this requirement, but if some don’t have the access, how do we help them out?

TT: Great question. Thank you. And that’s why we want it to be a requirement. Beccause if you make it optional then that means many districts will get pushed to the rear. And if you… I’m gonna go back to the first question that I was asked… the author of that bill to make this position appointed is a great author. I think he got it wrong on this one, right?

But he also authored the bill for personal finance in the committee, the Education Committee put some amendments on it that said, “Make it optional”. As soon as it becomes optional, the districts that largely serve low income kids and kids of color to say, “Okay, we’re not gonna do that.” And the communities that have access to more resources, or a parent club who can bring in an art teacher or a music teacher or a Technology Club get more.

And so, your equity question is right on point. The way to ensure that it is implemented with equity is to make it a requirement. But here are the incentives that I think will be critical for teachers who want to get training in delivering computer science. We should be providing them paid incentives in the professional development.

This year we piloted paid incentives for teachers to learn about personal finance. And these trainings were full on Saturdays. People were going to the training. Other states are providing these same incentives for teachers and they’re using AI to actually teach the teachers how to teach AI. Isn’t that funny?

It is interesting. I said, “Wait a minute, I’m not somebody who believes that a computer can replace a teacher.” They said, “No, that’s not what we’re doing.” They said, “We have a program where AI becomes the instructor. While the teacher is working alongside, the AI program in the classroom, but they’re using the AI modules to teach teachers who don’t have experience in computer science.“ And they offer those teachers an incentive to attend the training on their own time. I think we have to do the same thing in California.

RE: We have a question right here.

CARLOS ROJAS: Good afternoon. Carlos Rojas with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office. Thank you for being here this afternoon. Appreciate your insights.

TT: Thank you.

CR: So my question is, this morning we had a panel that was talking about the teacher shortage issue across California, which we all know is an issue that needs to be addressed. Two points that kept coming up were the reasons were: compensation needs to be increased and so do… And working conditions need to be improved.

TT: Yes.

CR: And as a former teacher, myself and an administrator, I agree on both. My question for you is, in terms of working conditions, one example that was brought up was class sizes, for example. Are there any other specific working conditions that are being brought to you from teachers across the state? If there are, can you share some of those?

TT: Yeah, thank you. And please give my regards to the county superintendent.

Working conditions is the number one reason that we lose teachers. And we lost many teachers during the pandemic. Many retired early during the pandemic, which was why it was really easy for me to do the retirement bill.

“We have to address behavioral interventions. And then even for young kids, I hear from so many elementary school teachers, they’re seeing kids that are coming to school and they don’t understand the rules of engagement. They don’t understand how to interact in class”

I can’t tell you how difficult it was to get the retirement bill even out of a committee, let alone we got it signed into law. Because people think that retired teachers won’t use it. But every state in the nation has some version of a retiree program for teachers to come back.

But here’s the issue that I hear, in addition to salary, which is… I would say salary and working conditions are the number sort of equally aligned that we hear the most. What I’m hearing the most right now are, the behavioral behaviors of students impacting teachers, in what’s already a hard job, right? If you work in special education, it’s hard enough, right? You work in an environment where you support students who sometimes hit, bite, kick. And that is difficult, but very important. And there should be supports for those teachers. What I’m hearing from teachers that they’re experiencing high levels of behaviors from students at every level.

And so, one of the bills that I wrote is a bill that would create a new position called an Intervention Specialist.Someone who’s trained in mediation, restorative justice, someone who knows how to deescalate things. We can’t expect teachers to be the disciplinarians, those schools that have school resource, those schools that use school resource officers sometimes misuse police officers, and they’re using them to be the Dean of Students, and that’s inappropriate. And so, I think we have to get to a place where we have more supports for our classrooms and our teachers who are working with students who may be dealing with behavioral needs.

That’s why I sponsored a bill, that secured the funding to recruit 10,000 mental health clinicians in our state. That $20,000 I talked about is available to anyone who wants to commit at least two years working in mental health in our schools.

And so, we have to address behavioral interventions. And then even for young kids, I hear from so many elementary school teachers, they’re seeing kids that are coming to school and they don’t understand the rules of engagement. They don’t understand how to interact in class. You can see the effects of students who spent two years on Zoom and not being in a school environment.

And as our students come out of it, we have to provide wraparound supports. We have $4 billion through the Community Schools Initiative. We have the ability to provide wraparound supports. It’s not gonna happen overnight, but we have to build these programs and help them to carry out and support our students as they settle back in. As they bounce back from what’s been, I think, the most difficult time that any of us will ever go through in our lifetime. And I think that we can do it.

And if there are things happening at Kern or anywhere else that you all are seeing that are working, we’d love to work with you. We have a robust program in Social Emotional Learning where people are teaching kids. I always say, what does that really mean? What does SEL really mean?

Like, if you break it down, that’s like teaching kids to respect each other, teaching kids to see that we have a lot in common. Teaching us how to talk to each other in ways that are supportive. You don’t need to use your hands, you know? And how to build respect. And that will help and go a long way as we see these behaviors. And there’s $4 billion for that in our Expanded Learning dollar programs. And we’re happy to work with your district or your county or any county or any district or any agency or school district that wants to identify strategies to work through the behaviors that they’re seeing in school. Yeah.

RE: We’ve got a question right here.

SIGRID BATHEN: You mentioned home support services for homeless students. What about the large population of students in foster care? 60% of whom, according to the Department of Education, statistics do not graduate from high school. 15% of whom are… Only 15% of whom are prepared for college. What kinds of support services can the Department of Education provide?

TT: Without more funding, we won’t be able to. And that’s why I’m sponsoring this bill for this year. I spent 28 years in my career working with young people, many of whom are foster youth who were transitioning out of foster care. And so, the bill that I’m sponsoring is a bill that envisions a lot of things that will compliment what students can do and will do with the right supports.

One of them is housing and then the wraparound supports. There’s an incredible program that I’m a fan of that I helped to build in parts of our state called THP-Plus. It stands for Transitional Housing Program Plus. And it allows a young person to get their first apartment subsidized and to get wraparound supports and life skills, how to get education, how to get a job, and how to not tear up that apartment, if you haven’t had any family showing you the way.

Capitol Weekly’s Conference on Education. Keynote by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Photo by Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly

I also sponsored a legislation that today guarantees that any young person who was in foster care will have a Chafee Grant that pays for them to go to school. And that they have more time to use it. It used to be that Chafee Grants had to be used by age 21. If you’ve been in Foster Care, like most young people, you need more time to figure it out, to figure out your journey.

And so, my bill that has expanded the funding for the Chafee Grant, that those grants can be used up to the age of 27. Our office is already working with all of our county offices of education to make sure that our homeless students and our foster youth learn about FAFSA and the opportunities to have financial aid.

We tried a bill that we will be revisiting that allows us to do a better count of the number of youth who are homeless and to make sure that more resources are drawn down from the federal government so that we can provide more supports to students who are homeless and foster. It’s a very important area for me. I launched an organization that all it does is work with emancipated foster youth to get life skills and housing and supports. And I’ll be looking to expand those resources statewide.

RE: We’re gonna go back. Did I see a hand over here? Okay. There. And then I’ll come back over here. Or Tim, have you got that one?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hello.

TT: Hi.

AM: I just wanted to ask some questions or one question if you can share your general thoughts on dual immersion programs and multilingual programs. And then, also specifically your thoughts about those programs and how we can better involve the community and parent engagement and just to see the process of that.

TT: Thank you. I’m a big fan of our dual enrollment programs and dual immersion programs. We have some high schools that many of you might know about that allow students to participate in dual enrollment. Some of them are called Middle College High Schools and students will be on the campus of a community college. And I’ve actually sponsored legislation to expand our dual enrollment programs because students are getting exposure, right? They’re on a college campus, they’re learning that college is possible.

You know, like I said, I come from a family of mostly immigrants and very few of my family had gone to college. My cousin who was raising me, she didn’t have any formal education. She worked as a nurse’s aide and she would go to a community college at night. She got her bachelor’s degree at night. Every time she graduated from one of those schools, she had her two little boys sitting right there next to her, right?

I think she was trying to send a message to us to demystify what it takes to be able to get formal education. I’ll show you the pictures. I had a bow tie that went down to here. I was like, you know, looking back, I realized she was sending a message about awareness and exposure that anybody who wants a college education can get one.

Our dual enrollment programs do that so well. Our dual immersion programs. I’m also a fan of… I’ve authored several bills that have expanded funding for dual language immersion programs. In a state that is continuing to diversify where students speak more than one language, that’s an advantage that we should provide for our students. It’s proven that learning another language promotes brain development.

And so, why wouldn’t we create students who are ready to be in a global marketplace, ’cause they’ve learned more than one language? So we talk about bilingual education all the time. And again, my bills increase the funding for dual immersion programs.

And I have another bill that I’m working on to help more of our schools become dual language immersion programs because… To me they’re the right thing to do. But in an environment where we’re dealing with declining enrollment, we have to send the message to parents that our schools can offer more.

And if our schools can offer STEAM dual language immersion programs and other programs that really prepare our students, that’s a powerful way to invite our parents and families back to school. That’s part of family engagement.

I think the other part of family engagement that you reference is, how do we partner with parents? Parents are our partners. We have to make our schools more accessible to them. We have to hire staff who are culturally competent in how they work with our families. You know, Universal Transitional Kindergarten is a great example of one of our most important opportunities around family engagement.

We have families who are afraid to enroll in UTK ’cause they think that there could be an immigration consequence. We need multilingual, culturally competent folks doing the outreach for UTK so families know that not only is there no immigration consequence, it is for free for every four year old.

And that these early education programs predict better outcomes for all of our kids in reading, in math in graduation rates. And so, we have tremendous opportunities ahead.

Family engagement has to be a big part of what we do. I just secured a gigantic grant to promote more family engagement and train districts in how they partner with our families. That’s something that I think our schools do well and can do better. And I think it will provide great benefits for our students and for our families.

RE: Well, and with that we have to let Superintendent Thurmond move on to other commitments this afternoon. So thank you very much, superintendent.

TT Thank you. Thank you.

Rich Ehisen: Thank all of you for your questions.

Thanks to our Conference on Education Policy sponsors: THE TRIBAL ALLIANCE OF SOVEREIGN INDIAN NATIONS, WESTERN STATES PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION, KP PUBLIC AFFAIRS, PERRY COMMUNICATIONS, CAPITOL ADVOCACY, LUCAS PUBLIC AFFAIRS, THE WEIDEMAN GROUP and CALIFORNIA PROFESSIONAL FIREFIGHTERS

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