By JOY JUEDES, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/07/2010 05:57:53 PM PST

Assemblyman and state Senate candidate Bill Emmerson backed an education reform bill signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Thursday.

“I like the reforms that gives parents more choice of where their children go to school, and it will bring in some federal dollars, which will help during this budget crisis,” said Emmerson, a Redlands Republican.

The Assembly passed the bill in special session Tuesday night, and the Senate passed it Wednesday.

The bill is designed to empower parents and let California compete for up to $700 million in federal money. The reforms will link teacher evaluations to student performance and allow parents with children in the worst-performing schools to send them elsewhere.

Local school governing boards will be allowed to close failing schools, convert them to charter schools or fire the principal and half the staff.

“I favor more local administration rather than up at the top because I think needs of children in Beverly Hills are very different than those in Barstow,” Emmerson said.

He said the legislation would help provide the kind of education needed in the local community.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

State Sen. Bob Dutton also voted for the bill, according to his Sacramento office.

Emmerson said more reforms must be made to California’s education system.

“There are too many levels of administration groups within the state educational hierarchy,” he said.

University of Redlands professor Renee Van Vechten said it is not surprising Emmerson and Dutton supported the bill.

“One thing that’s important to know is Republicans in the Legislature solidly backed this bill and Democrats are ambivalent about it because the teachers’ unions opposed it based on the control it gives to parents,” said Van Vechten, an assistant professor of government.

The new laws will let the state compete for a share of $4.3 billion in federal education grants through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative. The state must move quickly to submit its application because the first federal deadline is less than two weeks away.

The big change from past federal education initiatives, like No Child Left Behind, is parents can transfer their children to schools outside the district, she said. But parents must have the time and knowledge to do so, she said.

“It will filter down but the logistics of switching a child from one campus to another is cumbersome and not made, usually,” she said.

Those who benefit from such reforms have the means to absorb the personal costs, she said.

“It could lead to some switching around but all California schools are being equally bludgeoned by the dismal state budget,” she said.

The state overall is still in a rough spot, Emmerson said. He said the impact of the governor’s budget, set to be released today, remains to be seen.

“Unfortunately the economy has not improved a lot and we still have a deficit to deal with,” he said. “We’re going to have to prioritize our spending and get through this difficult time.”

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