California Ethnic Studies Curriculum is Legally Inoperative, Grass Roots Memo Points Out

California Assembly Bill 101 (AB101), the bill that aimed to make Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement for California high school students, has sparked controversy since its introduction. Much of the debate surrounding AB101 has focused on concerns about potential antisemitic content within the curriculum. 

However, a new memorandum raises a different yet critical issue: whether the curriculum has been technically “funded,” as required by the statutory language. The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (“FAIR”) has released a study outlining the urgency for the California Legislature to provide clarity on whether AB101’s graduation requirement is funded and operative. 

AB101 Is Not Yet Legally Operative

The text of AB101 was amended in Fall 2021, stating that the bill becomes “operative only upon an appropriation of funds by the Legislature for purposes of [the] amendments” that AB101 added to the Education Code. The amendment implies that for AB101 to take effect, the California Legislature must dedicate funds specifically towards the initiatives proposed by AB101.

While the Legislature did indeed appropriate $50 million for Ethnic Studies course offerings in Summer 2021, this action occurred before AB101 was amended and enacted in Fall 2021. This raises the question of whether this pre-amendment funding could or should be counted toward the amended bill’s requirements. If it is not counted, then the “appropriation” condition has not been satisfied, leaving the implementation of AB101 in a legally ambiguous position. AB101’s “appropriation” condition has not been satisfied, bringing its operative status into question.

AB101’s Uncertain Status is Causing Confusion and Waste

The FAIR Memo highlights some areas where the lack of clear guidance on AB101’s status is causing significant concern and potential wasted expenditure.

Firstly, the report brings attention to the financial implications for school districts that have begun their AB101 rollouts. These districts are incurring substantial startup consulting costs – up to $2,500 per hour – with the assumption that AB101 is operative and that they will be reimbursed by the state for these costs. However, if AB101 is not technically operative due to the funding issue, then these school districts face potentially severe financial repercussions.

Additionally, school districts that have not yet begun their Ethnic Studies program planning will need to set aside substantial funds to cover course planning in their June 2024 budgets at the latest. Without clear guidance on AB101’s status, these districts are in a difficult position, unsure whether they will receive state funding for these programs or be required to fund them locally.

The FAIR report also underlines how assumptions about AB101’s operative status have led to premature changes in California law. For instance, in 2022, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) introduced competency testing waivers for students majoring in Ethnic Studies. This move was made to fill the anticipated demand for new high school Ethnic Studies teachers, a demand presumed due to AB101’s enactment.

Similarly, in 2023, legislators proposed a bill concerning the credentialing of Ethnic Studies teachers. This proposal was based on the assumption that AB101 had created a state-mandated Ethnic Studies graduation requirement. If AB101 is not operative, these changes to teacher credentialing procedures and the proposed legislation are not only premature but could lead to overproduction of credentialed Ethnic Studies teachers without the corresponding demand.

In light of these findings, the FAIR Memo urges the California Legislature to clarify the status of AB101 as soon as possible, and no later than June 2024. The AMCHA Initiative has written a letter that you can read and sign in support of the FAIR initiative by clicking here (scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the blue arrow to sign the AMCHA letter). The current ambiguity surrounding the bill’s operative status is causing significant financial and legislative implications, creating a ripple effect across school districts and the teacher credentialing system. The situation underscores the critical importance of clear, timely communication about legislative changes that have wide-reaching effects on education systems and budgets.

The Case for Keeping AB101 Inoperative

The FAIR study suggests that should the statute indeed be inoperative due to funding complications, it might be wise to maintain this status for the foreseeable future. Several reasons justify this perspective.

Most concerning is the possibility of biased, bigoted, and discriminatory content within Ethnic Studies courses is a serious concern. Versions of Ethnic Studies curricula have been previously rejected by the State of California due to such issues. With no effective measures in place to prevent such content from being taught, these courses’ potential impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing cannot be ignored.

Further, there is an absence of valid and reliable empirical studies that can actually scientifically demonstrate the academic benefits of Ethnic Studies courses. Given the lack of substantial evidence, it might be premature to make Ethnic Studies a mandatory graduation requirement without first understanding its potential impact on students’ academic outcomes.

Additionally, there are currently no California State-approved standards for Ethnic Studies. This contrasts starkly with other courses stipulated by the California Education Code for high school graduation, all of which are based on standards approved by the California State Board of Education. Implementing a graduation requirement without a defined, approved standard could lead to inconsistent course content and outcomes across the state.

Given these financial, academic, and ethical concerns, it seems prudent to keep AB101 inoperative until these issues are adequately addressed. In the meantime, further studies, detailed planning, and constructive dialogue could help shape a more beneficial, feasible, and inclusive Ethnic Studies program in the future.

Sign the AMCHA Initiative letter by clicking here, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on the blue arrow.

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