August 3, 2008

Scott Reflects on His Tenure

By Caroline An

-- Photo Gallery: Senator Jack Scott

PASADENA - As one of the state's leading education advocates, state Sen. Jack Scott has authored 158 bills aimed at reforming California's public schools during his 12-year tenure in both the Assembly and Senate.

Among his successes: A law that addressed the need for highly qualified teachers in K-12 public schools; funneling more money into career and technical education; and a law that streamlined the transfer process for community college students headed to four-year colleges.

As he prepares to leave the Senate because of term limits this year and readies to take over in January as the next chancellor of the California Community Colleges Association, Scott sat down for an interview in which he discussed his educational accomplishments and analyzed problems - from dropout rates to the budget crisis' impact - now facing the state's public schools.

With the state budget still in limbo, Scott, D-Pasadena, believes education funding "will not be as generous in the past." And that's not good for California students.

"Education is an investment ... failing to invest will only hurt us in the long run," he said.

Scott projected a possible end to the budget crisis by mid- August. He said he supports a Cost of Living Allowance for public school teachers of 2 percent to 3 percent.

"If we don't give a COLA, then we are giving a cut to teachers," he said.

Dropout rates, which recent data pegged at 24.2 percent - meaning that nearly a quarter of all public school students never make it to graduation day - are bound to have serious repercussions in the future, Scott said.

Higher unemployment rates and more people on welfare and incarcerated will be the result, he said.

While engaging students is difficult, teachers and administrators need to be flexible - they have to learn how to spark students' interests. One option, Scott said, is to expand career and technical education programs at high schools.

Scott, a former president of Pasadena City College, said that during his tenure at PCC career-focused programs, such as the college's nursing program, had the lowest dropout rates.

"These are students who sometimes find the theoretical classes of little interest," he said. "I believe in multiple pathways to knowledge - different strokes for different folks."

His bill, SB 70, which was signed into law in 2005, earmarked $20 million to expand career technical education at high schools. But the state must now guarantee these programs continue to receive money, he said.

School districts looking to implement technical and trade programs should partner with local businesses that can donate equipment and advice to shape teaching and curriculum development, Scott said.

His proposal of career-themed programs at high schools is backed by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

O'Connell said he wants to expand career partnership academies at high schools - "schools within a school." Currently, 290 of these models exist at high schools throughout the state.

O'Connell points to a 96 percent graduation rate among those academies as the key indicator of success. The state's overall graduation rate is 67 percent, he noted.

Over the next three years, 150 more of these academies will open, he said.

"It is money well spent," O'Connell said.

Scott has also focused on improving two- and four-year colleges. One piece of legislation he is now working to get signed would require two-year and four-year colleges to gather information into a single database.

That would help determine student transfer and completion rates and how effectively college facilities are used. Currently, that type of information is being collected separately by colleges, but having it accessible through one database will ensure that the most up-date information is available, he said.

For now, Scott, who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, said he is focused on passing a budget that provides some financial relief for school districts and colleges. He said many have had to lay off teachers and restrict funding for field trips and other enrichment programs.

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