Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

December 16, 2013
Jerry Brown 'haunted' by high school test question about a leaf

brownchamberbreakfast.jpgMOUNTAIN VIEW - Gov. Jerry Brown has made his displeasure with standardized school tests plain any number of times since taking office in 2011. On Monday, by way of explanation, he offered his story about a leaf.

Interviewed on stage during a conference in Mountain View, Brown recalled a "shocking" exam he took as a senior in high school. It included only one question, Brown said: "Write your impression of a green leaf."

Brown, now 75, said he "didn't know how to deal with it" and that even now, walking by a tree, he wonders, "How's my impression going? Can I feel anything?"

"Actually, this is a very powerful question that has haunted me for 50 years, but you can't put that on a standardized test," Brown said.

The Democratic governor, who tangled with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this year over California's request for a one-year reprieve from using STAR tests, said "there are important educational encounters that can't be captured in tests that are managed from headquarters, either by Arne Duncan or by somebody in Sacramento."

Brown was being interviewed on stage at the Computer History Museum by James Bennet, editor in chief of The Atlantic magazine. After Brown objected to national testing standards as a form of "national control," Bennet asked about preparing students to compete in a global economy.

"Do you think students are in the global economy?" Brown said. "No, they're in the classroom."

When Bennet suggested students eventually would be in the global economy, Brown objected again.

"No, they're not," he said. "They're going to be in a job somewhere. We're not in the global economy. I hate to disillusion you. We're just here, in this hallway, with a bunch of people looking at us."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual host breakfast in Sacramento on May 22, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

December 16, 2013
Jerry Brown calls for federal unemployment funding extension

brownoaklandport.jpgWith Congress apparently close to a budget agreement that does not include an extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits, Gov. Jerry Brown urged House and Senate leaders to reconsider.

"When these benefits were first authorized, the national unemployment rate was only 5.6 percent," Brown said in a letter Thursday. "The national rate is still 7 percent and 36 states, including California, have even higher unemployment rates than when the extension benefits were originally authorized."

Brown's letter comes as the Senate prepares to act this week on a bill that would avert a government shutdown next year. The bill does not include an extension of unemployment benefits scheduled to expire at the end of the month, frustrating many Democrats.

Brown said more than 214,000 Californians are currently collecting federal unemployment extension benefits and that they "will suffer irreparable harm if these federal benefits are allowed to expire."

Brown also complained more broadly about what he called "the severe federal underfunding" of California's unemployment insurance program, where mistakes in a computer upgrade delayed benefits for thousands of unemployed Californians this fall.

"In 2013, California's federal UI administrative grant was $128 million less than what was needed to pay benefits timely and accurately," Brown wrote. "The continuous funding shortfalls result in benefit delays and prevent the state from providing timely and accurate UI services to unemployed workers suffering a financial hardship."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at an event in Oakland on Nov. 1, 2013. Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

December 16, 2013
California lawmakers question gun confiscation shortcomings

20131211_PK_GUN REGISTRATION_0128.JPGLawmakers pressed officials on Monday to improve the speed and efficiency of a state program used to seize guns from Californians prohibited from owning firearms.

Known as the Armed Prohibited Persons System, the program examined in a recent state audit targets Californians who became ineligible to own guns due to mental illness or criminal convictions. As of Jan. 1, the Department of Justice will be able to compare the list against a data on long gun purchases made after that date.

Among the issues spotlighted during a Wednesday hearing of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee were a massive backlog of gun owners yet to be reviewed and gaps in communication between courts and mental health providers, who are able to determine when someone forfeits his right to possess firearms, and the Department of Justice.

"I want to get this problem solved," said Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, who peppered witnesses with questions about data sharing. "I think it's embarrassing, quite frankly."

Three courts surveyed by the state auditor's office failed to consistently report banned individuals to the Department of Justice, State Auditor Elaine Howle said. The audit found 22 mental health facilities not on the Department of Justice's outreach list.

Howle recommended that courts, like mental health facilities, be required to communicate with the Department of Justice within 24 hours of determining someone should be barred from owning guns.

"We think the department of justice needs to do a better job of reaching out to courts and reminding them of their reporting requirements," Howle said.

Amid a broad push for tighter gun control laws, the Legislature this year approved an extra $24 million for recovering guns from people on the prohibited persons list. California has confiscated about 4,000 guns in sweeps since 2011, Howle said.

In a sign of strain on the program, the Department of Justice hadn't vetted the status of some 380,000 gun owners as of July. Steve Lindley, director of the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Firearms, said they have since reduced that backlog by about 47,000 people.

Enforcement appears to be lagging as well: the state audit found 20,800 people with mental illness who had not had their guns confiscated.

The department seems likely to have plenty of incoming information to occupy staff: Lindley noted that firearms sales have risen dramatically over the last few years, from 600,000 in 2011 to more than one million in 2013.

PHOTO: Blake Prior, center, completes paperwork for the purchase of a rifle at Auburn Outdoor Sports Wednesday December 11, 2013 in Auburn, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

December 16, 2013
New report gives access to California local government pay

20111102_ha_JOHN_CHIANG0365.JPGCalifornia's highest paid city employee last year was the city manager of Buena Park, who was paid $545,394 in 2012, according to the latest compilation of local salary data by state Controller John Chiang's office.

The second highest was a police sergeant in South Gate, $486,044.

But the highest paid county employee can top that. An orthopedic surgeon on contract to Kern County was being paid $1,040,651 last year. The 10 highest paid county employees in the survey were all physicians working in county-owned medical facilities.

Most of the highest paid listed on Chiang's ranking -- the city manager and police sergeant, for instance -- included vacation pay or other one-time payouts.

"Making compensation of public employees transparent provides taxpayers with the ability to be more informed and active in local government decisions," Chiang said in a statement. "I'm especially encouraged with the cooperation that cities and counties have provided in helping us make all government more accountable to Californians."

The newest report, which lists salaries by position and not by name, covers wage and benefit data for 637,435 positions local positions and more than $38.86 billion in wages paid in 2012.

PHOTO: Controller John Chiang in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

December 16, 2013
California low in school spending, but high in teacher salaries

teacher1.JPGGenerally, the states that spend the most on their public schools also have the highest teacher salaries, but there's one notable exception - California - as newly compiled data reveal.

California's average teacher salary is the fifth highest in the nation this year, but its per-pupil spending is the 12th lowest - indicating that the state is committing an extraordinarily high proportion of each school dollar to those salaries and relatively little on administration and other school expenses.

California's estimated average teacher salary, $69,324, comes from the newly published Digest of Education Statistics, compiled by the federal government's National Center for Education Statistics.

Its 12th lowest level of per-pupil spending, $9,202, is found in the statistical report from the National Education Association for the 2012-13 school year. The national average is $11,068.

The states immediately above and below California in teacher salaries all spend much more on their schools, as measured by the average per pupil.

December 16, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California's slowing population growth has huge effect

California's current population growth is at less than half the rate of its peak, which affects everything from education to real estate, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 16, 2013
AM Alert: Obama administration reaches out to public on college ratings system

Thumbnail image for Obama No Child Left Behind.JPGWith the cost of both private and public college tuition soaring, policymakers across the country are looking for ways to keep higher education affordable. Even President Barack Obama has jumped into the fray: In August, he announced his idea for a federal ratings system that would measure the "value" of colleges, serving as a resource for families and possibly as a guide that would redirect financial aid toward schools that score higher on its metrics.

The plan has been met with sharp criticism from Congressional Republicans and education leaders, which puts its scheduled fall 2015 start in doubt. Just last week, Obama's former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who took over as president of the University of California in September, expressed her doubts about the idea of a college scorecard.

"I am deeply skeptical that there are criteria that can be developed that are in the end meaningful, because there will be so many exceptions, once you get down to it," Napolitano told the Washington Post. "It's not like — you know, you're not buying a car or a boat."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education continues to solicit feedback on the project. Deputy Undersecretary of Education Jamienne Studley, along with U.S. Reps. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, will be at UC Davis' Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at 10 a.m. for a public forum on college affordability and the proposed ratings system.

VIDEO: California's slowing population growth has far-reaching implications, Dan Walters says, affecting everything from education to real estate.

FIGHT ON: Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox caused a stir in March when she came out as transgender to Sports Illustrated. Now the California State Athletics Commission, which licenses athletes in the combat sport, considers new regulations allowing transgender fighters to compete, including whether to check hormone levels to maintain fairness in MMA matches. The meeting takes place at 10 a.m. at 2005 Evergreen St. in Sacramento.

IT'S A HARD-KNOCK LIFE: More than one-in-five children live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. An all-day conference, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the California Endowment in Los Angeles, aims to address what the state can do to get the most out of its poverty-relief programs and how it can help to break the cycle for future generations. Among the expected attendees are state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento; state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: The Joint Legislative Audit Committee reviews two recently completed audits, 10 a.m. in Room 126 at the state Capitol. One concerns off-budget accounts, launched after the California Department of Parks and Recreation and Cal Fire were both discovered to be holding millions of dollars in unreported funds; the other is focused on the state Department of Justice's safety mechanisms for prohibiting people with certain mental illnesses from buying or owning guns.

CELEBRATIONS: A belated happy birthday to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who turned 72 yesterday, and to California Democratic Party chairman John L. Burton, who turned 81.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks on No Child Left Behind Reform, Sept. 23, 2011, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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