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Two bills from San Diego lawmakers that cleared a major hurdle last week could end up costing California schools tens of millions of dollars – or more.

AB 197 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber would require schools to offer full-day kindergarten programs, and AB 218 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez would extend the statute of limitations for crimes involving sexual abuse of children. The latter would impact schools as well as private institutions like churches or the Boy Scouts.

AB 197

This bill was advanced last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee with amendments that would make exceptions for schools that don’t have adequate facilities.

The would presumably have two major benefits: Weber has emphasized that full-day kindergarten programs help close the achievement gap and help ensure their future academic success (though the bill analysis notes that studies on the benefits of full-day kindergarten are mixed). They also can be a godsend for families whose parents work full time and have trouble securing childcare for kids in part-time programs.

But the cost of implementing such programs could be enormous: “this bill could result in additional Proposition 98 General Fund costs in the tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars for increased staffing, purchasing of materials, additional classroom space, and school facilities construction costs as a result of this measure,” the bill analysis notes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, however, has made full-day kindergarten part of his educational priorities, and his budget includes $300 million “to construct new or retrofit existing facilities to support full-day kindergarten programs, which will increase participation in kindergarten and address barriers to access.”

Some school districts, including San Diego Unified, already offer full-day kindergarten.

“This bill will likely impact about 19 percent of school districts throughout the state that only run part-day kindergarten programs,” the analysis notes.

AB 218

Student victims in the San Diego region have in recent years sued both the San Diego Unified and Sweetwater Union High School districts, claiming those public entities did not do enough to protect them from sexual abuse by predatory teachers. As a result, the districts and their insurance providers paid out millions in legal settlements to those students after they sought damages through litigation.

It could soon be easier for student victims across the state to sue school districts and other youth-serving organizations for damages.

AB 218, which advanced to the full state Senate last week, would ease the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to recover damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual assault from public institutions like schools, churches and other youth-serving groups, changing the maximum age a victim can seek damages for child sexual abuse from 26 to 40.

State education stakeholders and insurance providers have openly opposed the bill, claiming it could cost the state billions of dollars. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said she doesn’t know how big the financial impact will be. A recent analysis of the bill notes that the potential costs could be enormous, including “major out-year costs to local entities and school districts to the extent litigation is successfully brought outside the current statute of limitations and/or the entities are liable for damages. If payouts are large enough, this measure could lead to cost pressures to the state to stabilize a local jurisdiction or district. Additionally … school district could experience unknown, potentially significant costs related to procuring liability insurance.”

“We don’t know how many people there are,” Gonzalez said. “If it’s going to cost billions of dollars … My God then what are you doing? We don’t want school districts to go under. They have insurance. So it’s really about the number of victims there are.”

She said she hopes the threat of payouts may cause institutions like school districts to change. “The act itself is bad; the cover up is what continues to make this go on,” she told VOSD.

Karla Rhay, CEO of California Schools Joint Powers Authority, said the organization applauds Gonzalez’s intent and agrees with the need to protect kids, but said she believes there are better ways to do it than funneling billions of school dollars into civil litigation.

Rhay said AB 218 will make it impossible for public employers to effectively defend against claims “that are decades old, when evidence is likely gone, witnesses have moved or passed away, access to technology will likely have changed and there has been a turnover of staff.”

— Kayla Jimenez

New Laws Comin’ Atcha

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a batch of laws this week, including several from San Diego lawmakers:

  • AB 498 by Weber exempts a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces from paying any local business license fees for a business that provides services if the veteran is the sole proprietor.
  • AB 605 by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein requires local education agencies and charter schools to allow students to use school-purchased assistive technology devices at the student’s home if a student’s individualized education plan team determines the student’s needs require it.
  • AB 1017 by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath requires the California Public Utilities Commission to make an engineer available from the Rail Crossing and Engineering Branch to assist and advise a city or county on the safety of planned railroad crossings prior to their filing of an application for approval of new or modified railroad crossings.
  • SB 141 by Sen. Pat Bates requires all inmates convicted of a sexually violent offense to be administered a comprehensive risk assessment before their parole hearing.
  • SB 540 by Sen. Brian Jones allows nonprofits to offer split-dollar life insurance policies as compensation when
    secured by the cash value or death benefit, instead of both the cash value and death benefit.
  • SB 557 by Jones makes documents related to a defendant’s competency in criminal proceedings confidential.

Golden State News

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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