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Last week, Mario Koran sat in on the sort of online class that San Diego Unified increasingly relies on to boost its graduation rate.

He watched as students brazenly cheated – taking answers from websites where other students had already uploaded tests and quizzes, muting lectures so they could watch Netflix, entering gibberish into short answer response fields and getting full credit. Students and teachers said the behavior is rampant in the online classes.

In response, the San Diego Unified School District told the Union Tribune this week that Koran’s experience was merely anecdotal.

Well, the anecdotes are piling up.

In a new story, Koran rounded up many more students and teachers from around the district who came forward to tell the same story. Cheating is rampant, and many kids don’t think they’re learning anything in these classes, as Koran wrote in a follow-up.

A recently retired Morse High teacher said, “it’s worse than you think.” A Hoover student said the courses kept him from not graduating, but didn’t teach him anything. Teachers at Patrick Henry High described in an email obtained by Koran that cheating was rampant and difficult to stop. A teacher at a school that teaches basic life skills to kids with disabilities said that school now gets fewer students, since they can just rely on online courses to get a diploma.

“We as a district are not preparing students for the real world by providing ‘fake’ diplomas,” the teacher, Stacy Williams, said.

inewsource has been investigating rampant grade inflation at Gompers, a charter school in southeastern San Diego that’s been praised for years as a model for schools in the area. In the latest installment, a former teacher of the year at the school said the revelations about the school’s practices – many teachers said they were openly told they needed to change kids’ grades – should be a springboard for tough conversations between the community and school leaders.

Sacramento Report: Padilla Praises San Diego’s Election Reforms

San Diegans in November passed two measures that could upend city elections. Races now must be decided in November general elections, and not June primaries. The change means races will be finalized when turnout is highest – and it’s a boon to Democrats, who fare better when more people vote. Assemblyman Todd Gloria is pushing for a similar change with countywide elections.

California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla was in town this week, and told Sara Libby it makes our democracy more representative to make decisions when more people vote. They also talked about his plan to spend money to modernize the state’s election equipment, and President Donald Trump’s claims about election fraud in California.

This week’s dispatch from the Capitol also includes the big price tag that came out for single-payer healthcare in California, state-assisted efforts to curb homelessness and the local impacts of the so-called sanctuary state bill.

How San Diego’s Lawmakers Fared in a Big Week for State Legislation

It was a make-or-break week for many bills in the state Legislature, since the Assembly and Senate appropriations committees both gave the greenlight to – or killed off – hundreds of bills.

Some notable bills from San Diego lawmakers advanced this week, including:

 Sen. Toni Atkins’ bill to fund affordable housing projects

 Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill to reform the SANDAG board

 Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s bill to allow housing authorities to develop mixed-income projects

 a bill championed by San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance Carroll that would expand community colleges’ ability to offer four-year bachelor’s degrees

– Sara Libby

VOSD Podcast: The New City Attorney Is a Major Player

City Attorney Mara Elliott spent most of her campaign pledging to take the edge off the city attorney’s office. She said it should be more like the county’s legal counsel: quiet and deferential.

She hasn’t been in the office long, but Elliott hasn’t shied away from reshaping many of the city’s biggest policy debates.

On the podcast this week, Scott Lewis and I talked about the city’s newest heavy hitter, whose legal memo on SoccerCity made things much tougher for the developers trying to remake Mission Valley around a new soccer stadium.

Outgoing Port Commissioner Bob Nelson also joined the show to discuss why he resigned early, and what he sees ahead for plans to expand the Convention Center.

Alternative Energy Comes to Town

Slowly but steadily, more cities across California are pursuing community choice aggregation, a wonky term that basically means the city, instead of a utility provider like SDG&E, buys energy for its residents. Proponents expect cities that adopt the change would switch to renewable energy sources faster than utilities are right now.

Solana Beach just became the first city in the county to move forward with the plan, as Claire Trageser reports for KPBS.

Other cities in the county are considering the idea as well, including the city of San Diego. Our Ry Rivard wrote an explainer a few months ago outlining how the programs work and the hurdles they’re facing.

An executive for Sempra Energy surprised a room full of fellow energy executives this week when he announced that there’s no technical reason California couldn’t get all of its energy from renewable sources right now. (inewsource)

News Around Town

San Diego is trying to loosen the rules and costs to build additional housing units on a single-family lot, called granny flats. The city’s plan passed the Planning Commission Friday. (U-T)

A marsh near Mission Bay could be key to the city’s fight against sea-level rise. (U-T)

UC San Diego researchers discovered evidence that Volkswagon isn’t the only major car manufacturer that’s gaming emissions regulations. (KPBS)

The Week’s Top Stories

These were the five most popular Voice of San Diego stories for the week of May 20-May 26. Click here to see the full top 10.

1. The California Legislature Is About to Kick Immigration Agents Out of San Diego Jails
SB 54, the so-called sanctuary state bill, would be the most significant change to local immigration enforcement in a decade – and it would come not from President Donald Trump but the state. (Scott Lewis)

2. Frustrated San Diego Unified Parents Say They Can’t Get Answers to Basic School Budget Questions
A group of well-resourced parents at Gage Elementary, and even the school board member who represents them, say they’ve hit a brick wall when it comes to getting answers from San Diego Unified about school budget cuts. If they can’t get basic info, one parent said, “What chance does the rest of this district have?” (Mario Koran)

3. It Is Shockingly Easy to Cheat San Diego Unified’s Online Courses
Across the district, online courses are enabling thousands of students to get caught up on classes they previously failed. But students also have access to the web as they take quizzes and tests, making it possible to find answers to the exact questions that appear on tests. (Mario Koran)

4. San Diego Wants to Go From Cacophony to One Voice on Homelessness
San Diego’s homeless-serving approach has long suffered from a lack of coordination. Regional leaders now hope to get everyone to follow a single plan. (Lisa Halverstadt)

5. North County Report: Vista Tries to Corral Issa Protesters
Oceanside faces big issues in the absence of its mayor, The Coast News is still searching for an editor and more in our weekly roundup of news from North County.(Ruarri Serpa)

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org...

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