Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

December 18, 2013
Analyst recommends changes in how California oversees for-profit schools

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California should focus its oversight of the state's private college industry on only those schools that raise red flags or have a history of student complaints, a new report by the Legislative Analyst's Office recommends.

Such an approach would free up resources to meet the workload created by a federal rule taking effect next July requiring private post-secondary colleges to get state authorization if they want to participate in federal student aid programs, aaccording to the LAO report.

In addition, the report said, the state should extend its oversight to cover online schools based outside California. Those schools currently operate without state review and often with no accreditation.

A 2009 state law that overhauled the state's fragmented-to-nonexistent oversight of for-profit colleges created a Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. Under the law, the bureau licenses institutions that have no accreditation or are accredited by national or specialty agencies.

But the LAO said the bureau should leave review of schools' education quality to accreditation groups. The bureau instead should stick to the potentially bigger problems of schools ripping off students and conducting questionable business practices, such as deceptive marketing.

"In short, under the revised oversight system, the Bureau generally would conduct inspections for low-risk accredited institutions only when triggered by complaints, poor performance, or other factors, while dedicating the bulk of its compliance resources
to the remaining, highest-risk accredited and unaccredited institutions," the LAO wrote, summing up its suggestions.

About 11 percent of the 3.7 million California students attending college go to for-profit schools. The schools have long been the subject of debate in the Capitol. Supporters say they offer a way for students to learn valuable vocational skills and avoid long wait lists at community colleges. Critics, though, allege that some of the schools have misleading pitches, high costs, and poor student outcomes.

The 2009 law exempted from state licensing the 150 schools accredited by regional agencies. Those schools educate about one-half of all students attending private schools, according to the LAO.

But starting in July 2014, the U.S. Department of Education requires all for-profit schools participating in federal student aid programs — including those accredited by regional agencies — to be authorized by the state in which they are located and have a student complaint process in place.

Some large schools, the University of Phoenix and DeVry University, already have agreed to bureau oversight to comply with the new federal rules.

PHOTO: Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

December 18, 2013
Key deadlines nearing for new healthcare coverage

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Peter V. Lee, the head of the state's health insurance exchange, said the pace of registration has quickened as customers face a series of deadlines.

Roughly 15,000 consumers a day were signing up for coverage the first two days of last week.

"We are seeing huge interest," Lee said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, adding that more people were becoming familiar with Covered California.

Customers who want their coverage for doctors' appointments and prescription drugs to start next month must select plans by Monday and pay their first premium by Jan. 6. The next enrollment deadline is Jan. 15 for coverage to begin Feb. 1. For those customers, a payment is due Jan. 28.

The first open enrollment period runs through March 31.

Lee likened the progress thus far to being in the first inning of a nine-inning game. He noted some trends to emerge since the exchange launched for business Oct. 1.

While some 55 percent of enrollees complete the process in one day, creating an account and selecting their plans, that still means about 45 percent of the applicants take longer, he said.

About 75 percent take a full week to come on board.

Covered California also is seeing major differences in the plans chosen by people with federal premium assistance versus those who pay full freight. About two-thirds of the customers with subsidies select a silver plan and 18 percent pick a bronze plan.

For those without subsidies, the breakdown is evenly spread across bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Higher-valued metals correspond with the higher the percentage of expenses paid for by the plans.

"They want to buy what they think is the best deal for them," Lee said.

PHOTO: Kristy Farrington, a student at Sacramento State University, looks at a pamphlet with information on Covered California on Oct. 16, 2013.

December 18, 2013
Two Southern Cal cities chagrined about highly paid employees

chiang1.JPGOfficials in two Southern California cities were chagrined to be singled out this week as having the state's two highest paid municipal employees last year in an annual compilation by state Controller John Chiang - and are blaming a clerical error and one-time anomaly.

Buena Park was listed as No. 1 for paying its city manager $545,394, and a city councilwoman, Elizabeth Swift, contacted Capitol Alert with an explanation. She said the city manager was retiring after 32 years on the city's payroll and cashed out sick leave accumulated during that career, departing with a one-time payment of several hundred thousand dollars.

South Gate was listed as having the state's second highest paid city employee last year, a police sergeant reported as having received $486,044. But on Tuesday, the city informed the controller's office that the city erroneously listed a $33,399 one-time payment to the officer as $339,999 on the reporting form. The officer's total for the year was actually $180,044, acting personnel director Nellie Cobbs said.

The controller's office is changing the South Gate entry, but leaving the one for Buena Park intact.

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

December 18, 2013
Report faults CA governor's office policy for chilling discrimination claims

brownchinaagreement.jpgA policy requiring the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to obtain approval from the governor's office before pursuing discrimination claims against public agencies has compromised the department's independence and chilled investigations, state overseers said in a new report.

The policy, contained in an administration directive describing how a variety of matters should be elevated to the governor's attention, applies broadly to state departments proposing to bring lawsuits or enforcement actions against state or local agencies.

Its effect on the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which investigates complaints of discrimination in housing and employment matters, has been significant, according to a report released Wednesday by the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes.

Since the policy was instituted during the Schwarzenegger administration in 2008, formal accusations of discrimination against public employers dropped from 15 percent of all DFEH accusations to just 1 percent, the report said.

The report said the time required to submit a case to Gov. Jerry Brown's office for approval has resulted in shortened investigations and automatic sidetracking to mediation of complaints against public agencies.

The report quoted Tim Muscat, a former chief counsel at DFEH, saying that in perhaps 10 instances "we could not go forward with a claim because there wasn't time" to get the governor's approval.

December 18, 2013
AM Alert: State parks commission considers alternatives to keep system viable

Angel_Island.JPGIt has not been an easy few years for the California state park system. Facing a budget crunch, the Department of Parks and Recreation nearly closed 70 parks last year before it was revealed that top officials had hidden more than $20 million in a secret fund.

The embarrassing revelations continued: Another $33 million had been forgotten in an obscure off-road fund, and the department had deferred maintenance at state parks in excess of $1 billion.

Those troubles prompted the launch of a new volunteer commission to analyze and overhaul the park system. Parks Forward, as the initiative is called, aims to make the department more "sustainable" over the next century.

The commission, which is chaired by former state Sen. Christine Kehoe and venture capitalist Lance Conn, meets today from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Capitol Plaza Ballrooms on Ninth Street. The meeting will cover current financials and staffing at state parks, as well as activities underway to improve their management and possible models for the system's long-term viability.

VIDEO: With nearly 50 initiatives attempting to get on the ballot next November, it could be a crowded campaign season, Dan Walters says

SNOW-POLITANO: President Barack Obama has decided not to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February, so he's sending a delegation of athletes and diplomats in his place. Leading the group, the White House announced yesterday, is Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, who also led a delegation to the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. She will be joined by former tennis champion Billie Jean King and figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano, among others.

"I look forward to being in Sochi to support our Olympic athletes and celebrate their accomplishments," Napolitano said in a statement. "It is an honor to represent our country in the company of individuals who have excelled in life and sport."

ACTIVE ALUM: Former state lawmaker Gil Cedillo was a big advocate for immigrant rights during his time in the California Legislature. (He famously introduced legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses nine times.) Now a Los Angeles councilman, Cedillo is speaking out on the Obama administration's deportation policy. He will be leading an event on the front steps of Los Angeles City Hall at 9 a.m. to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Migrants.

PHOTO: Segway tours are available at Angel Island State Park — the Ellis Island of the West. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

December 18, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Prepare for a crowded ballot next November

With nearly 50 initiatives seeking to qualify for the November 2014 ballot, next fall could be overloaded with multimillion campaigns on hot-button issues, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.



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Capitol Alert Staff


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

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

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com

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

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert. mmassimino@sacbee.com

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

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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