What We’re Watching in California Education – March 2024 Edition

Welcome to the March 2024 edition of What We’re Watching in California Education, a newsletter that we hope will offer you insight into public education conversations happening at our state Capitol. 

March is a busy time for the legislature, as policy committees hear new bills introduced  in the Senate and the Assembly in 2024, and budget committees discuss the governor’s budget proposal. Here are the toplines:  

State Education Budget Shortfall: Following the Governor’s January budget proposal, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) announced an updated budget deficit of $73 billion. Advocates urge the legislature to invest in educational programs despite the shortfall.  

2024 Legislative and Policy Priorities: GO’s Statewide Policy Platform is guiding how we consider proposed legislation. Keep reading for an update on bills we’re watching, and how they will advance educational equity, funding accountability, and college access and affordability. 

Financial Aid for Mixed-Status Families: While the rollout of the “Better FAFSA” has been bumpy for all, it has had a significant impact on students from mixed-status families. Read on to access and share GO’s resources to support families with their financial aid applications. 

State Education Budget Shortfall

On February 20th, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) announced a new projected budget deficit of $73 billion for 2024-2025. In his January budget proposal, Governor Gavin Newsom projected the deficit to be as low as $38 billion, despite the LAO’s warnings in December that they anticipated a $68 billion deficit. This updated estimate means that the upcoming May Budget Revision may see further cuts to one-time and ongoing expenditures, or possibly borrowing more heavily from the state’s reserves. 

Given the tight budget, educational equity advocates continue to urge the legislative Budget and Fiscal Review Committees and Budget Subcommittees on Education Finance to protect funding for educational programs that have an impact on marginalized students in California. 

Despite the tight budget, many higher education organizations and coalitions have communicated the importance of funding efforts to increase college affordability in California. These efforts include the implementation of Cal Grant Reform, the Higher Education Student Housing Grant program, and institutional programs such as the CSU Black Student Success Initiative, the UC’s Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships (SAPEP), and various student basic needs programs. 

The next iteration of the Governor’s budget, the May Revise, will be released by May 14th, 2024. 

2024 Legislative and Policy Priorities

Whether it is a bill, State Board of Education agenda item, or budget proposal, GO Public Schools is committed to supporting equitable policy change in line with our Statewide Policy Platform. We are proud to advocate for policies that support equitable, anti-racist school systems, increased access to, and affordability of higher education, and advance education funding equity, adequacy, and accountability. 

With these priorities in mind, we look to the second year of the 2023-2024 legislative cycle. Two bills that GO signed on in support of in 2023 – SB 445 (Portantino) and AB 274 (Bryan) – remain active in the legislative process. Though it is still early in the process, there are a few bills that we are keeping our eye on as they move through the legislature: 

  • AB 2222 (Rubio): Would help California build and sustain excellent and equitable literacy instruction through the adoption of instructional materials aligned with the science of reading, professional development and training for current educators, and preparation in effective means of teaching literacy for teacher candidates 
  • AB 2165 (Reyes): Follows AB 469 (2021-2022) and would provide clarity on the mandatory FAFSA/CADAA completion requirement 
  • AB 2500 (M. Fong): Would allow the Executive Director of the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) to grant a postponement of financial aid application deadlines 
  • SB 1348 (Bradford): States the intent of the Legislature to create the State Seal of Excellence in Serving Black and African American Postsecondary Students 
  • ACA 7 (Jackson): Would grant an exception to Proposition 209, which prohibits preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin (also known as affirmative action)
  • AB 2071 (Carrillo) – Would develop and adopt a “California English Learner Roadmap: Parent Toolkit” and establish the English Learner Roadmap Implementation Grant Program
  • AB 2548 (Ta) one-sentence bill: States the intent to enact future legislation that allows K-12 students to succeed academically. 

You can follow these and other bills through the legislative process on the state’s Legislative Information website.  

Financial Aid for Mixed-Status Families

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and California Dream Act Application (CADAA) went live on December 31, 2023, three months later than the typical October 1st opening date. Since the launch of the Better FAFSA, “there have been numerous application and processing delays, and a growing list of glitches and issues with the application.” Among the challenges are two issues that have affected students from mixed-status families: 

  • Prior to March 5th, contributors (parents or students’ spouses) without social security numbers were unable to complete the verification required to create a StudentAid.gov account. As of this year, a StudentAid.gov account is the only way to access and sign the online FAFSA form. 
  • Contributors without social security numbers who were able to create their accounts were still unable to submit their portion of the application. 

An estimated 500,000 U.S citizen students ages 17-21 with undocumented parents are applying for FAFSA this year, and while the U.S. Department of Education has announced that the issue is mostly resolved, there are still two known issues for students from mixed-status families. A National College Attainment Network (NCAN) analysis found that FAFSA submissions for the class of 2024 lag behind last year’s senior class by over 40%

GO signed onto a letter to Federal Student Aid (FSA) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) urging them to address the barrier to submission for mixed-status families, as well as encourage higher education institutions to increase flexibility on financial aid priority deadlines for students whose FAFSA submission is delayed due to this issue. GO was also featured in EdSource, advocating for colleges and universities to do their part to support families. 

Last week, AB 1887 (Cervantes), which extends California’s priority deadline to May 2nd, 2024, passed unanimously through the legislature and was signed by Governor Newsom on Monday. As an urgency statute, the law will take effect immediately. 

The California Student Aid Commission’s (CSAC) application for state-based aid, The California Dream Act Application (CADAA), has seen a smooth rollout despite also undergoing changes in line with the FAFSA Simplification Act. 

Earlier this month, GO hosted a webinar, “Accessing Financial Aid as an Undocumented or Mixed-Status Family.” Visit our Financial Aid Resources webpage for more information, including a recording of the webinar and a session recap. 

GO’s A Parent’s Guide to Financial Aid includes information about how to apply for financial aid, including instructions and updates to the FAFSA and CADAA. GO will also be publishing the inaugural An Educator’s Guide to Financial Aid Completion, which will examine and share best practices that lead to an increase in financial aid applications. We want to hear from you! 

PARENTS AND FAMILIES: Please fill out this survey to share your thoughts and perspectives about financial aid and how best to support students with applications. 

SCHOOL LEADERS AND COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATIONS: Please fill out this survey to share tools, strategies, and best practices to support financial aid application completion.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on What We’re Watching in California Education. Please let us know what you liked and what you hope to see in future editions.

In Community,

Darcel Sanders, Chief Executive Officer 

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