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When the Legislature imposed new regulations on private postsecondary schools last year, aimed at protecting students from unscrupulous diploma mills, it unwittingly put small flying schools in a potential spinout.

When the state's previous postsecondary education regulation system was in existence, the flying schools had been exempted from state oversight via an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration, but when that system expired, so did the FAA arrangement.

The new regulatory scheme didn't contain an exemption for the small flying schools, often one- or two-person operations offering lessons on a cash basis, and they could not afford to comply with the rigorous financial and reporting requirements of the new legislation.

Fearing that they would be forced out of business, the flying instructors appealed to the Legislature for relief. Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, introduced a bill (Assembly Bill 1140) giving them a one-year respite while an alternative to state regulation was worked out.

Niello's bill, however, got caught up in a standoff between the Schwarzenegger administration and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada-Flintridge, the author of the anti-diploma mill legislation.

Portantino is carrying a bill (Assembly Bill 1889) to clean up ambiguities in the new program and was willing to include one-year delay for the flying schools, but another provision required that five new employees of the new Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education be stationed in Sacramento.

The governor's office opposed that provision, sought by the Service Employees International Union, as an incursion on administrative authority and threatened a veto. On Friday, Portantino relented and took the SEIU's language out of the bill.

"When it became clear to us the bill might be vetoed, we removed that portion dealing with having the five postsecondary education specialists housed in Sacramento," a Portantino spokeswoman said. "The rest of the provisions in this bill were too important to have it vetoed over this one section."

Problem solved?

Maybe yes, maybe no. If enacted, Portantino's bill would not take effect until January while technically, the flying schools came under state regulation last month. Niello's bill, meanwhile, would take effect immediately if passed and signed. "The urgency is important," Niello says.

So the flying schools are still up in the air.



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