Ass'yman Patrick O'Donnell Supports And Advances Bill Mandating Ethnic Studies In All CA High Schools As Elective; SEE VIDEO of Sac'to Hearing
(Mar. 30, 2015) -- In his first hearing as chair of the Assembly Education Committee, Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell (D., Long Beach), the former 4th district Councilman whose campaign reminded voters that he's a teacher, has voted to support and advance a bill that would require all CA School Districts (with grades 7-12 inclusive) to offer a course in Ethnic Studies as a social science elective, using a Sacramento-developed model curriculum.
AB 101, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D., Watsonville), cleared O'Donnell's Committee on a 6-1 vote -- with Republican Rocky Chavez (R., Oceanside) voting "no" -- sending it the Assembly Appropriations Committee and potentially one step away from the Dem majority Assembly floor.
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Specifically, the bill would:
Meanwhile, on parallel track locally that could bypass whatever Sacramento does or doesn't do, a CSULB Professor of in the Chicano and Latino Studies Dept. wrote earlier this month on VoiceWaves.org (full opinion piece here) that LBUSD should "require the teaching of ethnic studies as soon as possible." Prof. Armando Vazquez-Ramos (CSULB website screen save below). wrote that he has personally delivered a proposal on the matter to LBUSD Board Vice President Felton Williams and Mayor Robert Garcia (emailed with several supportive documents to LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser.) "I firmly believe that young men of color will greatly benefit from a strong sense of identity and social responsibility, which will be derived from a profound knowledge about their history and culture," Prof. Vazquez-Ramos wrote.
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In advocating his bill, Assemblyman Alejo (who indicated he was a Chicano Studies Major at UC Berkeley) told the Committee, "Studies have shown that students have better learning outcomes across the board when they learn about their histories and their scholarship and those of their classmates." He said ethnic studies courses "do not polarize, but in fact the opposite, they bring together students under an American identity. Studies have shown that teaching a high school course focusing on ethnic and cultural issues increases compatibility of the student's sense of American identity and what it means to be an American today in a diverse society." He also asserted that ethnic studies help close an "achievement gap" by "reducing student truancy, increase student enrollment, reduce drop out rates and better prepare California's youth to be college prepared and career ready."
Among those testifying in support was Cecily Myart-Cruz, a VP of United Teachers Los Angeles. "I want to thank my parents, Mary and Cecil Myart, who remain my lifetime role models for immersing me in the beauty of both my Black and Mexican cultures. My cultures are reflective of the diversity in the school districts of greater Los Angeles," she said.
A Salinas High School junior testified that last summer she attended a Chicano-Latino Youth Leadership Project in Sacramento, at which "I learned about history that I had never been exposed to before. I learned to take pride in my indigenous ancestry...Learning about all this sparked an interest in me to keep learning about the history of my people..."
As is routine, the Assembly chair asked public speakers to briefly state their name, affiliation and their position on the bill. A long line of speakers lined up to voice their support for the record. One speaker said that "after 500 years suppression, please give me a minute" and explained that his nephew's ancestors "were some of the greatest agriculturalists in the world and they once had over 500 varieties of tomatoes...and that our structures rivaled the great Coliseums and those of Egypt." He continued: "Why do we continue to suppress this part of history from American history, continue to teach our children that the Constitution came from some great Divine, you know their European forefathers had from God, when in fact they got the Constitution from the Iroquois league of nations."
Chair O'Donnell invited opposition witnesses. There were none.
Committee colloquy indicates AB 101 is backed by the Latino, Black And Asian Sac'to Legislative Caucuses (groups of state lawmakers.)
AB 101 is the successor to last year's AB 1750 (also by Ass'yman Alejo) that passed the Assembly ("yes" votes included LB Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal) in 2014 but didn't reach the state Senate floor, after it was held in the state Senate Appropriations Committee (a frequent graveyard of bills that either create state budget impacts or Dem leadership doesn't want to advance [especially in an election year.])
Prior to the vote, Assemblyman O'Donnell said, "I didn't know what it meant to be Irish till my oldest brother took an Irish ethnic studies class at San Diego State of all places, so there is many a St. Patrick's Day in my house and much more after that." O'Donnell added, "[A]s one who comes from the most diverse city, Long Beach, in California, I well understand the need for this course."
AB 101 cleared the Assembly Education Committee on a 6-1 vote (Yes: O'Donnell, Kim, McCarty, Santiago, Thurmond, Weber. No: Chávez)
If AB 101 clears the Assembly Appropriations Committee [which is supposed to consider fiscal, not policy matters], it goes to the Assembly floor (where Dems hold a majority) and then to the state Senate (where Dems also hold a majority.)
Assemblyman O'Donnell has endorsed Herlinda Chico to fill the remainder of the Council term that O'Donnell vacated early, as has Mayor Robert Garcia (who has sought to position himself as addressing educational issues.) To our knowledge, Garcia hasn't taken a public position on AB 101 or its 2014 predecessor AB 1750 nor has the LB City Council. A little over two weeks remain (with vote-by-mail ballots flying now) in a winner take all (no runoff) special election to choose a new 4th dist. Councilmember: Daryl Supernaw, Herlinda Chico or Richard Lindemann.
At the LBUSD level, local advocates of ethnic studies may seek to make their proposals to LBUSD management (Superintendent Chris Steinhauser) and/or lobby LB School Board members directly. (Historically, the LBUSD School Board has given great weight to the recommendations of its Superintendent.) Two longtime School Board incumbents, Dr. Felton Williams and Jon Meyer, will face voters in 2016 if they seek reelection.
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